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Translated by John Ciardi 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 

"Fresh and sharp. ... I think [Ciardi'sl version of Dante will 
be in many respects the best we have seen." 

— John Crowe Ransom 

Considered Italy's greatest poet, Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) 
was the scion of a Florentine family who mastered the art of 
lyric poetry at an early age. His first major work, La Vita Nuova 
( 1 292), was a tribute to Beatrice Portinari, the great love of his 
life. Dante's political activism resulted in his being exiled 
from Florence, and he eventually settled in Ravenna. It is be- 
lieved that The Divine Comedy — comprising three canticles, 
The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and The Paradiso — was writ- 
ten between 1 308 and 1320. 

John Ciardi (1916-86), a distinguished poet and professor, 
taught at Harvard and Rutgers universities and served as po- 
etry editor of the Saturday Review. He was a Fellow of the 
American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National 
Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1955, he won the Harriet 
Monroe Memorial Award and the Prix de Rome in 1956. 

Archibald T. MacAHister (1905-66) taught at Yale and at 
Brown University before joining the Princeton faculty in 1940, 
where he taught the advanced course in the Divine Comedy. 
He was chair of the Italian section of the Department of Ro- 
mance Languages at Princeton, and contributed many arti- 
cles on Dante to scholarly publications, including the entry 
on Dante in A Dictionary of Moral Philosophy. 

Prof. Edward M. Cifelli has taught at colleges and universi- 
ties for nearly forty years. He has written biographies of 
poets David Humphreys and John Ciardi, and a memoir, 
Routine Miracles. He has also edited or compiled books of 
letters, poetry, and bibliography. He contributes regularly to 
magazines and journals publishing articles about poetry and 
literary history, and has also contributed to the American Na- 
tional Biography, American Writers Before 1800, and The 
Encyclopedia of New Jersey. 



Dante Alighieri 

Translated by John Ciardi 

With an Introduction by 

Archibald T. MacAllister 

and a New Afterword by 

Edward M. Cifeli, PhD 



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Published by Signet Classics, an imprint of New American Library, a division of 
Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Previously published in a Mentor edition. 

First Signet Classics Printing, June 2001 

First Signet Classics Printing (Cifelli Afterword), October 2009 


Copyright © John Ciardi, 1954, 1982 
Afterword copyright © Edward M. Cifelli, 2009 
All rights reserved 


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To Judith 

Cosi n 'andammo infino alia lumiera, 

parlando cose, che il tacere e bello, 

si com * era il parlar cola dov ' era. 


translator sNote 






Selected Works by John Ciardi 


The Ciardi Translations: Inferno 



Hell — First Seven Circles 


Hell— Eight Circle (Malebolge) 


The Descent of Malebolge 


Hell— Ninth Circle (Cocytus) 


Translator's Note 

When the violin repeats what the piano has just played, it 
cannot make the same sounds and it can only approximate 
the same chords. It can, however, make recognizably the 
same "music," the same air. But it can do so only when it is as 
faithful to the self-logic of the violin as it is to the self-logic 
of the piano. 

Language too is an instrument, and each language has its 
own logic. I believe that the process of rendering from lan- 
guage to language is better conceived as a "transposition" 
than as a "translation," for "translation" implies a series of 
word-for-word equivalents that do not exist across language 
boundaries any more than piano sounds exist in the violin. 

The notion of word-for-word equivalents also strikes me 
as false to the nature of poetry. Poetry is not made of words 
but of word-complexes, elaborate structures involving, among 
other things, denotations, connotations, rhythms, puns, jux- 
tapositions, and echoes of the tradition in which the poet is 
writing. It is difficult in prose and impossible in poetry to jug- 
gle such a complex intact across the barrier of language. 
What must be saved, even at the expense of making four 
strings do for eighty-eight keys, is the total feeling of the 
complex, its gestalt. 

The only way I could see of trying to preserve that gestalt 
was to try for a language as close as possible to Dante's, 
which is in essence a sparse, direct, and idiomatic language, 
distinguishable from prose only in that it transcends every 
known notion of prose. I do not imply that Dante's is the 
language of common speech. It is a much better thing than 


x Translator's Note 

that: it is what common speech would be if it were made 

One of the main sources of the tone of Dante's speech is 
his revolt from the Sicilian School of Elegance. Nothing 
would be more misleading than to say that Dante's language 
is simple. Overwhelmingly, however, it seeks to avoid ele- 
gance simply for the sake of elegance. And overwhelmingly 
it is a spoken tongue. 

I have labored therefore for something like idiomatic En- 
glish in the present rendering. And I have foregone the use of 
Dante's triple rhyme because it seemed clear that one render- 
ing into English might save the rhyme or save the tone of the 
language, but not both. It requires approximately 1,500 triple 
rhymes to render the Inferno and even granted that many of 
these combinations can be used and re-used, English has no 
such resources of rhyme. Inevitably the language must be in- 
verted, distorted, padded, and made unspeakable in order to 
force the line to come out on that third all-consuming rhyme. 
In Italian, where it is only a slight exaggeration to say that 
everything rhymes with everything else or a variant form of 
it, the rhyme is no problem: in English it is disaster. 

At the same time some rhyme is necessary, I think, to ap- 
proximate Dante's way of going, and the three-line stanzas 
seem absolutely indispensable because the fact that Dante's 
thought tends to conclude at the end of each tercet (granted a 
very large number of run-on tercets) clearly determines the 
"pace" of the writing, i.e., the rate at which it reveals itself to 
the reader. These were my reasons for deciding on the present 
form. Moreover, I have not hesitated to use a deficient rhyme 
when the choice seemed to lie between forcing an exact 
rhyme and keeping the language more natural. 

For my interpretation of many difficult passages I have 
leaned heavily on the Biagi commentaries, and even more 
heavily on the Vandelli-Scartazzini. A number of these inter- 
pretations are at odds with those set forth in some of the more 
familiar English versions of the Inferno, but, subject to my 
own error, this rendering is consistent at all points with Van- 
delli's range of arguments. 

I have also leaned heavily on the good will and knowledge 
of a number of scholars. Dudley Fitts read patiently through 

Translator 's Note xi 

the whole manuscript and made detailed, and usually legible, 
notes on it. Professor A. T. MacAllister not only gave me the 
benefit of another complete set of detailed notes, but agreed 
to undertake the historical introduction so important to a 
good understanding of Dante, and so brilliantly presented 

Professor Giorgio di Santillana gave me sound and subtle 
advice on many points. My major regret is that he left for 
Italy before I could take further advantage of his patience and 
of his profound understanding of Dante. I wish to thank also 
Professor C. S. Singleton for some useful disapproval at a 
few points, Professor Irwin Swerdlow and Professor Richard 
W. B. Lewis for hours of patient listening, and my sister, Mrs. 
Thomas W. Fennessey, for typing through many drafts. I think, 
too, I should acknowledge a debt of borrowed courage to 
all other translators of Dante; without their failures I should 
never have attempted my own. 

— John Ciardi 


The Divine Comedy is one of the few literary works which 
have enjoyed a fame that was both immediate and enduring. 
Fame might indeed be said not to have awaited its comple- 
tion, shortly before the author's death in 1321, for the first 
two parts, including the Inferno here presented, had already 
in a very few years achieved a reputation tinged with super- 
natural awe. Within two decades a half-dozen commentaries 
had been written, and fifty years later it was accorded the honor 
of public readings and exposition — an almost unheard-of trib- 
ute to a work written in the humble vernacular. 

The six centuries through which the poem has come to us 
have not lessened its appeal nor obscured its fame. All of 
them have not, of course, been unanimous in their apprecia- 
tion: for a fifteenth-century Latinist, Dante was a poet "fit for 
cobblers"; eighteenth-century worshipers of Reason could 
not be wholly sympathetic to a poet who insisted on the 
limitations of reason and philosophy. U was the effete mid: 
sixteenth century which, in spite of certain reservations, first 
proclaimed "divine" the work its author had called sfmplyhis 
"Come4y" The significant fact is that the Divine ComedThas 
demanded critical consideration of each successive age and 
every great writer; and the nature of their reaction could well 
serve as a barometer of taste and a measure of their greatness. 

By that standard the present age should prove truly great, 
for its interest in the Comedy has rarely been matched. Credit 
for the nineteenth-centuryjedi sco very of Dante in the English- 
-speaking world belongs to Coleridge, who was ably seconded 
in this country by Longfellow and Norton. Contemporary 


Introduction xiii 

enthusiasm was touched off by T. S. Eliot's Essay on Dante 
and has grown, in some quarters, to the proportions of a cult. 

What is this work which has displayed such persistent vi- 
tality? It is a narrative poem whose greatest strength lies in 
the fact that it does not so much narrate as dramatize its 
episodes. Dante had doubtless learned from experience how 
soporific a long narrative could be. He also firmly believed 
that the senses were the avenues to the mind and that sight 
was the most powerful ("noblest," he would have said) of 
these. Hence his art is predominantly visual. He believed also 
that the mind must be moved in order to grasp what the 
senses present to it; therefore he combines sight, sound, hear- 
ing, smell and touch with fear, pity, anger, horror and other 
appropriate emotions to involve his reader to the point of 
seeming actually to experience his situations and not merely 
to read about them. It is really a three-dimensional art. 

The Divine Comedy is also an allegory. But it is fortu- 
nately that special type of allegory wherein every element 
must first correspond to a literal reality, every episode must 
exist coherently in itself. Allegoric interpretation does not 
detract from the story as told but is rather an added signifi- 
cance which one m ay take or leave. Many readers, indeed, 
have been thrilled by the Inferno's power with hardly an 
awareness of further meanings. Dante represents mankind, 
he represents the "Noble Soul," but first and always he is 
Dante Alighieri, bora in thirteenth-century Florence; Virgil 
represents human reason, but only after he has been accepted 
as the poet of ancient Rome. The whole poem purports to be a 
vision of the three realms of the Catholic otherworld, Hell, 
Purgatory and Paradise, and a description of "the state of the 
soul after death"; yet it is peopled with Dante's contempo- 
raries and, particularly in the materialistic realism of the 
Inferno, it is torn by issues and feuds of the day, political, 
religious and personal. It treats of the most universal values — 
good and evil, man's responsibility, free will and predesti- 
nation; yet it is intensely personal and political, for it was 
written out of the anguish of a man who saw his life blighted 
by the injustice and corruption of his times. 

The Divine Comedy is classically referred to as the epit- 
ome, the supreme expression of the Middle Ages. If by this is 

xiv Introduction 

meant that many typically medieval attitudes are to be found 
in it, it is true: the reasoning is Scholastic, the learning, the 
mysticism are those of the author's time. But if from such a 
statement one is to infer (as is frequently done) that the poem 
is a hymn to its times, a celebration and glorification of them, 
as Virgil's Aeneid was of Rome, then nothing could be more 
misleading. The Comedy is a glorification of the ways of 
God, but it is also a sharp and great-minded protest at the 
ways in which men have thwarted the divine plan. This plan, 
as Dante conceived it, was very different from the typically 
medieval view, which saw the earthly life as a "vale of tears,'^ 
a period of trial and suffering, an unpleasant but necessary 
preparation for the afterlife where alone man could expect to 
enjoy happiness. To Dante such an idea was totally repug- 
nant. He gloried in his God-given talent, his well-disciplined 
faculties, and it seemed inconceivable to him that he and 
mankind in general should not have been intended to develop 
to the fullest their specifically human potential. The whole 
Comedy is pervaded by his conviction that man should seek 
earthly immortality by his worthy actions here, as well as 
prepare to merit the life everlasting. His theory is stated ex- 
plicitly in his Latin treatise , De Monarchia: 

"Ineffable Providence has thus designed two ends to be 
contemplated of man: first, the happiness of this life, 
which consists in the activity of his natural powers, and 
is prefigured by the Earthly Paradise; and then the 
blessedness of life everlasting. . . . which may be sym- 
bolized by the Celestial Paradise." 

To us, reading his masterpiece at the comfortable distance 
of six hundred years, it may well seem that few men have bet- 
ter realized their potential than Dante; to him, a penniless ex- 
ile convicted of a felony, separated under pain of death from 
home, family and friends, his life seemed to have been cut off 
in the middle. 

It was Dante's pride — and the root of his misfortune — to 
have been born in the free commune of Florence, located 
near the center of the Italian peninsula, during the turbulent 
thirteenth century. It is important that we remember to think 

Introduction xv 

of it, not as an Italian city, but as a sovereign country, a power 
in the peninsula and of growing importance internationally. It 
had its own army, its flag, its ambassadors* its foreign trade, 
its own coinage; the florijp, in fact, was on its way to becom- 
ing the standard of international exchange, the pound sterling 
or dollar of its day. Its control was a prize worth fighting for, 
and the Florentines were nothing loth to fight, especially 
among themselves. Internal strife had begun long before, as 
the weakening of the Empire had left its robber-baron repre- 
sentatives increasingly vulnerable to attack and eventual sub- 
jection by the townsfolk. They had become unruly citizens at 
best in their fortress-like houses, and constituted a higher no- 
bility whose arrogance stirred the resentment of the lesser 
nobility, thejnercriants and the artisans. The history of the re- 
public for many years is the story or the bloody struggle 
among these groups, with the gradual triumph of the lower 
classes as flourishing trade brought them unheard-of prosper- 
ity. Early in Dante's century the struggle acquired color and 
new ferocity. In 1215 the jilting of an Amidei girl was 
avenged by the murder of the offending member of the Buon- 
delmonti family, which, according to the chronicler Villani, 
originated the infamous Guelph-Ghibelline factions. But the 
lines had already long been drawn on the deeper issues, with 
the Ghibellines representing the old Imperial aristocracy and 
the Guelphs the burghers, who, in international politics, fa- 
vored the Pope. In 124£ with the aid of Frederick II, the Ghib- 
ellines expelled the Guelphs; in 1251 the latter returned and 
drove out the Ghibellines, who were again defeated in 1258. 
In 1260 the Ghibellines amassed a formidable army under 
the leadership of Farinata degli Uberti and overwhelmed 
the Guelphs at Montaperti, where the Arbia ran red with the 
blood of the six thousand slain, and sixteen thousand were 
taken prisoner. The very existence of Florence hung momen- 
tarily in the balance as the triumphant Ghibellines listened to 
the urgings of their allies from neighboring Siena that they 
wipe out the city; only Farinata's resolute opposition saved it. 
Gradually the Guelphs recovered, and in 1266 they com- 
pletely and finally crushed their enemies atjSenevento. Thus 
ended the worst of this partisan strife from which, as Machi- 
avelli was to write, "there resulted more murders, banish- 

xvi Introduction 

ments and destruction of families than ever in any city known 
to history." 

Dante Alighieri had been born the preceding year, 1265, 
toward the end of May; he was a year old when his family (a 
typically Guelph mixture of lesser nobility and burgher) must 
have joined in the celebration of their party's victory. His 
whole impressionable childhood was undoubtedly filled with 
stories of the struggle so recently ended. The fascination it had 
for him is evident in the Comedy, where it is an important fac- 
tor in the Inferno and the lower, "material" portion of the 

Our actual knowledge of Dante's life is disappointingly 
small, limited to a few documents of record. The biographies, 
beginning with Boccaccio's about fifty years after his death, 
are largely hearsay, legend and deductions based on his 
works and the meager references scattered through them. Wg. 
know that his mother died when he was very young, that his 
father remarried, and that Dante was completely orphaned in 
adolescence. This is thought to account for a certain hunger 
for parental affection which can be noted in the Comedy. He 
doubtless received the normal education of the day for his 
class, and perhaps more, for his bent must have been clearly 
intellectual and literary. That he took an early interest in the 
vernacular lyric only recently borrowed from the Provengal 
is demonstrated by poems dating from his middle or late 
teens. It was through this activity that he made his closest 
friendship, that with Guido Cavakartfi, who was a gifted poet 
some years Dante's Senior. 

Most of our impressions about his youth are gleaned from 
his first work, in the planning of which Cavalcanti had a part. 
Called La Vita Nuova (The New Life), it was deliberately 
written in the vernacular in 1292 to celebrate the most impor- 
tant influence in Dante's life, his love for Beatrice Portinari. 
It is made up of sonnets and longer lyrics interspersed with 
prose passages which explain and narrate the circumstances 
under which the poems had been composed years earlier. An 
astonishing feature of the book is the careful symmetry of its 
arrangement where the balance of three, nine and ten fore- 
shadows the elaborate design which will be worked out in the 
Comedy. Very briefly, it is the story of a boy of nine suddenly 

Introduction wit 

awaking to love at the sight of a girl of almost the same age; 
of a second encounter at the age of eighteen when a greeting 
is exchanged; of tribulations and misunderstandings leading 
to her disapproval; of her sudden death when the poet was 
twenty-five, his grief and attempted consolation by another 
girl; finally of a "marvelous vision" of his Beatrice when he 
was twenty-seven, thus completing the trinity of "nines" and 
determining him to write no more of her until he could do so 
worthily. Although it is autobiographical, the Vita Nvtova is 
not an autobiography; it is a delicate and sensitive analysis of 
emotions. Such facts as enter into it assume an air of strange 

From our small array of factual data we learn that Dante's 
life in this period included other things than tremulous sighs 
and visions. In 1289 he took part in the battle of Campaldino 
and the capture of Caprona. In 1295 appears the first record 
of his political activity. In the same year he made himself 
eligible for public office by enrolling in a guild, the Apothe- 
caries', where the books of that day were sold. In the follow- 
ing year it is recorded that he spoke in the "Council of the 
Hundred." By 1299 he had advanced to fill a minor ambas- 
sadorship. In the meantime he married IGemma/ kinswoman 
of his friend Forese Donati and of the hot-tempered Corso. As 
the mature but still youthful Alighieri was playing an ever 
more prominent role in politics, familiar tensions were once 
again building up within the republic. Thirty years without a 
serious threat from their common enemy put too great a 
strain on Guelf unity; and again it was a murder, though in 
nearby Pistoia, which precipitated open conflict. The Floren- 
tines took sides and in the late spring of 1300 the two parties, 
called "Blacks" and "Whites," fought in the streets. It was at 
this particular moment that Dante's political career was 
crowned with the highest success and he was elected one of 
the six supreme magistrates, called priors. Himself a moder- 
ate White, he found it necessary during the two-month term 
to join in banishing his brother-in-law, Corso Donati, and his 
"first friend," Guido Cavalcanti, as ringleaders respectively 
of the Blacks and Whites. (Cavalcanti died very soon of an 
illness contracted during his banishment.) As friction con- 
tinued, the Blacks conspired for the intervention of the 

xviii Introduction 

Pope, Boniface VIII, who was delighted with the chance to 
strengthen the Papacy's claim on Tuscany. In spite of frantic 
White opposition he sent Charles of Valois ostensibly as im- 
partial arbitrator and peacemaker. What the Pope's secret 
orders were became instantly apparent when Charles was ad- 
mitted in November 1301, for he set upon the Whites, admit- 
ted the banished Blacks and stood by as they gave themselves 
over to murder and pillage. The matter was then legitimized 
by a series of "purge trials" of the sort only too familiar to us. 
Among those accused, and of course convicted, of graft and 
corruption in office was Dante Alighieri. Fortunately he had 
been absent and had stayed away; but from early in 1302 
his voluntary absence became exile under penalty of being 
burned alive. 

We know even less of the remaining nineteen years except 
that they were spent largely with a series of patrons in various 
courts of Italy. The exile had no funds, no reputation as yet, 
no powerful friends. He stayed at various times with the 
Scala family, then with the Malaspinas; tradition has it that he 
studied at Paris, and even at Oxford. As time passed and his 
reputation grew, his way became easier and his last years 
were spent in relative comfort at Ravenna as the honored 
guest of Guido Novello da Polenta, nephew of Francesca 
da Rimini. On the way back from a diplomatic mission to 
Venice he fell ill and died soon after his return. In the Par- 
adiso XVII he left one of the most poignant descriptions of 
life in exile ever written: "Thou shalt prove how salty tastes 
another's bread, and how hard a path it is to go up and down 
another's stairs." 

That Dante had ample reason to feel that the political 
chaos of his day was a prime menace to man's pursuit of hap- 
piness should be quite apparent. It should also be understand- 
able that he used the Comedy to protest this evil and to 
suggest a remedy. His analysis and conclusions took years 
of reading and meditation, during which he denounced all ex- 
isting parties, Whites, Blacks, Guelphs, and Ghibellines, in 
order to "make a party by himself." As his compatriot Machi- 
avelli was to do two hundred years later and from very simi- 
lar motives, he sought his material in the literature of Ancient 
Rome, with the difference that the later scholar had the ad- 

Introduction xix 

vantage of the humanistic revival and the free inquiry of the 
Renaissance, whereas Dante was a pioneer circumscribed by 
Scholasticism. He had already begun his study of ancient 
philosophy a few years after the Vita Nuova and before his 
political disaster. In his next work, the Convivio or Banquet, 
he tells how difficult he had found it: the Latin he had learned 
proved quite different from that of Boethius' Consolations 
of Philosophy. Cicero's urbane and complex style was much 
harder and, more confusing still, his whole mode of thought, 
his concepts, viewpoints, allusions were as if from a differ- 
ent world. The young explorer from medieval Christendom 
went doggedly on from one work to another which he had * 
seen mentioned, without adequate teachers, courses, refer- 
ence works, or indeed, the works themselves, except as he 
could beg or borrow the manuscripts. Eventually he mastered 
and assimilated all the learning available in Latin or Latin 
translations, from the Timaeus of Plato, Cicero, Virgil, Hor- 
ace, Ovid, Statius and Lucan through St. Augustine and 
other Fathers of the Church, to Averroes, St. Thomas and the 
great mystics. But the wastefulness, the needless difficulties, 
the groping aroused his indignation, as injustice always did. 
He had been "educated" but how much had it helped him in 
the pursuit of real learning? He knew that there were others, 
too, who longed for such knowledge but lacked his extraordi- 
nary mental equipment (he allowed himself no false mod- 
esty) and thus failed to win through. What was lacking were 
real schools with competent teachers and high standards, 
available to all who had the talent and the desire to learn. But 
what agency would set them up and maintain them? Not the 
Church; for, though it was no longer ignorant of philosophy, 
the Church was suspicious of it and not inclined to grant it 
that primacy in the conduct of human affairs which Dante as- 
signed to it. This was another problem, to be studied along 
with that of political instability and strife. In the meantime 
he, Dajnte Alighieri, could contribute the fruits of his own ef- 
forts in the form of an encyclopaedia or compendium of 
knowledge which would at the same time earn for him badly 
needed prestige. Not only would it gather together the knowl- 
edge which he had found scattered piecemeal in many works 
and in different forms, it would make that knowledge acces- 

xx Introduction 

sible by use of the vernacular instead of Latin. Such a thing 
was revolutionary in the first decade of the fourteenth cen- 
tury and called for an explanation which Dante gave in the 
form of an impassioned defense of what we call Italian. He 
concluded with the following prophetic words, referring to 
the new language as 

"... a new light, a new sun, which shall rise whereas 
the accustomed one [Latin] shall set, and which shall 
give light to those who are in darkness because the ac- 
customed sun does not give them light." 

The Banquet was to consist of fifteen sections: an introduc- 
tion and fourteen of Dante's longer philosophical lyrics, each 
followed by an expository prose passage. Only four sections 
were completed. Among the possible reasons for its aban- 
donment, two in particular seem valid. First, the work is a 
failure in organization and style, typically medieval in its dis- 
cursive rambling. Second, it was written to exalt philosophy, 
"most noble daughter of the Emperor of the Universe," and 
thus constituted a perilous deviation for a medieval Chris- 
tian. It is at least possible that this frame of mind was in- 
cluded in the "Dark Wood" in which the Comedy begins, and 
it almost certainly inspired the repeated warnings against 
over-dependence on philosophy and human wisdom which 
the poem contains. 

Evidence that Dante had already begun to formulate his 
solution to the evils of his day may be found in the Banquet, 
but it is in the De Monarchia, last of his more important mi- 
nor works, that we find the full statement of his theories. This 
is the best organized and most complete of his treatises. He 
probably composed it in the last decade of his life and chose 
Latin as a medium rather deliberately, I suspect, for discre- 
tion's sake. It is certain, at any rate, that copies of it were 
sought out for burning by the Papacy some years after the au- 
thor's death, and it was among the first books placed on the 
Index. The Church, struggling to wrest from the enfeebled 
Empire its supremacy as a temporal power, had made it a 
matter of dogma that the emperors were as dependent on the 
popes as was the moon on the sun. The De Monarchia denied 

Introduction xxi 

and denounced this position, affirming that the two powers 
were rather like two equal suns, each dependent only on God 
and designed to guide man toward his two goals: peace and 
happiness in this world and spiritual salvation in the next. 

"To these states of blessedness, just as to diverse con- 
clusions, man must come by diverse means. To the for- 
mer we come by the teachings of philosophy ... in 
conformity with the moral and intellectual virtues; to 
the latter through spiritual teachings which transcend 
human reason ... in conformity with the theological 
virtues. . . . Now the former end and means are made 
known to us by human reason . . . and the latter by the 
Holy Spirit. . . . Nevertheless, human passion would 
cast all these behind, were not men, like wild horses in 
their brutishness, held to the road by bit and rein. 

"Wherefore a twofold directive agent was necessary 
to man in accordance with the twofold end: the Supreme 
Pontiff to lead the human race by means of revelation, 
and the Emperor to guide it to temporal felicity by 
means of philosophic education." 

Failure of the two guides to cooperate prevented peace 
and bred injustice. Part of the blame rested on the Empire for 
neglecting its duties, but the larger share fell on the Papacy. 
In its greed for temporal power, which Dante believed rooted 
in the ill-conceived "Donation of Constantine," it not only 
deprived mankind of a strong civil government but neglected 
its proper task of spiritual guidance, so that most men were 
damned not only in this life but in the life to come. Dante's 
ideas have long been ridiculed as quixotic, yet history has 
seen a Declaration affirming man's right to "the pursuit of 
happiness," the separation of Church ancTState, education 
secularized and rendered accessible to the public, while to 
many today the idea of peace and justice through a world 
government seems not so much chimerical as indispensable. 

Whatever fate might have befallen the De Monarchia 
would have mattered little, for its essential thesis was pre- 
served in the enduring beauty of the Divine Comedy, interwo- 
ven with the other themes, expressed at times openly, at other 

xxii Introduction 

times merely implicit in the structure. For the same reason it 
was unimportant that the Banquet lay unfinished, for all the 
erudition Dante had planned to present in that indigestible 
work found much nobler, more convincing expression in the 
poetry of the Comedy. Even the beautiful little youthful 
work, the Vita Nuova, found itself continued and sublimated 
on the slopes and summit of the Purgatorio, where Beatrice 
reappears in womanly glory first to confront and then to 
guide her lover. For one of the marvels of this great poem is 
the way in which all of Dante's learning, his speculations, ob- 
servations and experiences were blended together in its intri- 
cate fabric. 

The poem's complex structure is itself a marvelous thing. 
Before we examine it briefly we should, however, remember 
that Dante lived in a Catholic world or, rather, universe, in 
which every slightest thing was encompassed in the will and 
knowledge of an omnipotent and omniscient Deity and that 
the supreme attribute of that Deity was the mystery of His 
Trinity and Unity. Evidences of that mystery were sought and 
found everywhere and such numerical symbolism was not as 
today comical abracadabra but a serious and even sacred 

Now let us look at the Comedy. It is made up of three 
nearly equal parts which are distinct yet carefully interrelated 
to form a unified whole. Each part moreover is the expression 
of one Person of the Trinity: Inferno, the Power of the Father, 
Purgatory, the Wisdom "Of the Son, Paradise, the Loveof tfie 
Holy Spirit. Jpach part, or cdntica, contains 33 cantos for a to- 
tal of 99. If we add the first, introductory, canto we obtain a 
grand total of 100 which is the square of 10; 10 is the perfect 
number, for it is composed solely of the square of the Trinity 
plus 1, which represents the Unity of God. Even the rhyme 
scheme itself is the terza rima or "third rhyme" which Dante 
invented for his purpose. There afe other symmetries and 
correspondences, but this should suffice to demonstrate that 
Dante planned his own creation in as close an imitation of a 
divinely created and controlled universe as was possible to 
the mind of man. Almost literally nothing was left to chance. 

We today are more than inclined to despise such concern 
with what seem to us trifles, externals, Victorian gingerbread, 

Introduction xxiii 

because we are convinced that the mind preoccupied with 
them cannot have much of importance to say. In our utilitar- 
ian scorn we are in danger of forgetting that a certain preoc- 
cupation with form (and even today's straight line betrays 
such a preoccupation) is essential to beauty. In the Divine 
Comedy we must remember that Dante had for his subject the 
whole world, the entire universe, all of man's history, his 
learning, his beliefs, plus his own particular messages. To 
him pfpftmipa tinn with form was not extrinsic, not a luxury ; 
it was his salvation. A s Mr. Gilbert Hiphet points out, it is this 
that sets Dante apart from his contemporaries, this was the 
great lesson he had learned from his master and author, Vir- 
gil. The medieval digressions which infest the Banquet have 
been eliminated by the "fren deirarte." I doubt whether there 
is another work of this size which is so economical in its use 
of words. The reader always has, as Mr. Ciardi aptly puts it, 
"... a sense of the right-choice-always-being-made"; and 
this applies to everything from the smallest word to the har- 
monious interrelation of the principal divisions. 

This awareness of intelligence at work is clearly felt 
throughout the Inferno. This is the realm — or condition — of 
the "dead people," those who have rejected spiritual values 
by yielding to bestial appetites or violence, or by perverting 
their human intellect to fraud or malice against their fellow 
men. As subject matter it is the lowest, ugliest, most material- 
istic of the whole poem. Now in his unfinished treatise on the 
vernacular, De Vulgari Eloquentia, Dante had established a 
basic rule that the poet must make his style match his mater- 
ial. In accordance with this we should expect the style of the 
Inferno to be lower than that of the other divisions — and that 
is exactly what we find. The poet has used throughout it a Ipw 
level of diction, common, everyday words and constructions 
and relatively simple figures. Yet with this prosaic equipment 
he has obtained incomparable effects, from the poignant sen- 
suality of Francesca (V), the dignity of Farinata (X), the 
pathos of Ser Brunetto (XV), to demoniac farce (XXI) and 
revolting ugliness (XXIX). He employed not only ordinary 
words but, where he thought it useful, those which in our lan- 
guage seem to require only four letters. 

It is Mr. Ciardi's great merit to be one of the first American 

xxiv Introduction 

translators to have perceived this special quality of the In- 
ferno and the first to have reproduced it successfully in En- 
glish. In order to achieve this he has abandoned any attempt 
to reproduce Dante's complicated rhyme scheme and has 
even had to do some slight violence to conventional poetic 
usage. The resulting effect to the ear, which must be the 
supreme judge in these matters, is a good likeness of the orig- 
inal. It may also be something of a shock to those who insist 
on a uniformly hieratic approach to all things Dantesque; let 
them come really to know the vigorous, uncompromising 
Florentine who, even in the Paradiso, wrote: 

"E lascia pur grattar dov'e la rogna!" 

("And let them go ahead and scratch where it itches.") 

— Archibald T. Mac Allister 




Canto I 


Midway in his allotted threescore years and ten, Dante comes 
to himself with a start and realizes that he has strayed from 
the True Way into the Dark Wood o f Error (World liness). As 
soon as he has realized, hisloss, Dante lifts his eyes and sees 
the first light of the sunrise (the Sun is the Symbol of Divine 
Illumination) lighting the shoulders of a little hill (The Mount 
of Joy). It is the Easter Season, the time of resurrection, and 
the sun is in its equinoctial rebirth. This juxtaposition of joy- 
ous symbols fills Dante with hope and he sets out at once to 
climb directly up the Mount of Joy, but almost immediately 
his way is blocked bx the Three Beasts of Worldliness: THE 
TINENCE. These beasts, and especially the She -Wolf, drive 
him back despairing into the darkness of error. But just as all 
seems lost, a figure appears to him. It is the shade of VIRGIL, 
Dante i symbol of HUMAN REASON. 

Virgil explains that he has been sent to lead Dante from er- 
ror. There can, however, be no direct ascent past the beasts: 
the man who would escape them must go a longer and harder 
way. Eirst he must descend through Hell (The Recognition of 
Sin), then he must ascend through Purgatory (The Renuncia- 
tion of Sin), and only then may he reach the pinnacle of joy 
and come to the Light of God. Virgil offers to guide Dante, 
but onlx as far as Human Reason can go. Another guide 
(BEATRICE, symbol of DIVINE LOVE) must take over for 
the final ascent, for Human Reason is self-limited. Dante sub- 
mits himself joyously to Virgil's guidance and they move off. 

4 The Inferno 

Midway in our life's journey, I went astray 
from the straight road and woke to find myself 
alone in a dark wood. How shall I say 

what wood that was! I never saw so drear, 
so rank, so arduous a wilderness! 
y/ Its very memory gives a shape to fear. 

Death could scarce be more bitter than that place! 
But since it came to good, I will recount 
all that I found revealed there by God's grace. 

How I jpame to it I cannot rightly say, 10 

so drugged and loose with sleep had I become 
when I first wandered there from the True Way. 

But at the far end of that valley of evil 

whose maze had sapped my very heart with fear! 

I found myself before a little hill 1 5 

and lifted up my eyes. Its shoulders glowed 
already with the sweet rays of that planet 
whose virtue leads men straight on every road, 

and the shining strengthened me against the fright 

whose agony had wracked the lake of my heart 20 

through all the terrors of that piteous night. 

Just as a swimmer, who with his last breath 
flounders ashore from perilous seas, might turn 
to memorize the wide water of his death — 

so did I turn, my soul still fugitive 25 

from death's surviving image, to stare down 
that pass that none had ever left alive. 

And there I lay to rest from my heart's race 
till calm and breath returned to me. Then rose 
and pushed up that dead slope at such a pace 30 

Canto I 5 

each footfall rose above the last. And lo! 
almost at the beginning of the rise 
I faced a spotted Leopard, all tremor and flow 

and gaudy pelt. And it would not pass, out stood 

so blocking my every turn that time and again 35 

I was on the verge of turning back to the wood. 

This fell at the first wideni ng of t he dawn 

as the sun was climbin gtAriefl with those stars 
that rode with him to light the new creation. 

Thus the holy hour and the sweet season 40 

of commemoration did much to arm my fear 
of that bright murderous beast with their good omen. 

Yet not so much but what I shook with dread 
at sight of a great Lion that broke upon me 
raging with hunger, its enormous head 45 

held high as if to strike a mortal terror 
into the very air. And down his track, 
a She- Wolf drove upon me, a starved horror 

ravening and wasted beyond all belief. 

She seemed a rack for avarice, gaunt and craving. 50 

Oh many the souls she has brought to endless grief! 

She brought such heaviness upon my spirit 
at sight of her savagery and desperation, 
I died from every hope of that high summit. 

And like a miser — eager in acquisition 55 

but desperate in self-reproach when Fortune's wheel 
turns to the hour of his loss — all tears and attrition 

I wavered back; and still the beast pursued, 
forcing herself against me bit by bit 
till I slid back into the sunless wood. 60 

6 The Inferno 

And as I fell to my soul's ruin, a presence 
gathered before me on the discolored air, 
the figure of one who seemed hoarse from long silence. 

At sight of him in that friendless waste I cried: 

"Have pity on me, whatever thing you are, 65 

whether shade or living man." And it replied: 

"Not man, though man I once was, and my blood 
was Lombard, both my parents Mantuan. 
I was born, though late, sub Julio, and bred 

in Rome under Augustus in the noon 70 

of the false and lying gods. I was a poet 
and sang of old Anchises' noble son 

who came to Rome after the burning of Troy. 
But you — why do you return to these distresses 
instead of climbing that shining Mount of Joy 75 

which is the seat and first cause of man's bliss?" 
"And are you then that Virgil and that fountain 
of purest speech?" My voice grew tremulous: 

"Glory and light of poets! now may that zeal 

and love's apprenticeship that I poured out 80 

on your heroic verses serve me well! 

For you are my true master and first author, 
the sole maker from whom I drew the breath 
of that sweet style whose measures have brought me honor. 

See there, immortal sage, the beast I flee. 85 

For my soul's salvation, I beg you, guard me from her, 
for she has struck a mortal tremor through me." 

And he replied, seeing my soul in tears: 

"He must go by another way who would escape 

this wilderness, for that mad beast that flees 90 

Canto 1 7 

before you there, suffers no man to pass. 

She tracks down all, kills all, and knows no glut, 
but, feeding, she grows hungrier than she was. 

She mates with any beast, and will mate with more 
before the Greyhound comes to hunt her down. 95 

He will not feed on lands nor loot, but honor 

and love and wisdom will make straight his way. 
He will rise between Feltro and Feltro, and in him 
shall be the resurrection and new day 

of that sad Italy for which Nisus died, 1 00 

and Turnus, and Euryalus, and the maid Camilla. 
He shall hunt her through every nation of sick pride 

till she is driven back forever to Hell 

whence Envy first released her on the world. 

Therefore, for your own good, I think it well 105 


you follow me and I will be your guide 
and lead you forth through an eternal place 
There you shall see the ancient spirits tried 

in endless pain, and hear their lamentation 

as each bemoans the second death of souls. 110 

Next you shall see upon a burning mountain 

souls in fire and yet content in fire, 
knowing that whensoever it may be 
they yet will mount into the blessed choir. 

To which, if it is still your wish to climb, 115 

a worthier spirit shall be sent to guide you. 
With her shall I leave you, for the King of Time, 

who reigns on high, forbids me to come there 
since, living, I rebelled against his law. 
He rules the waters and the land and air 1 20 

8 The Inferno 

and there holds court, his city and his throne. 
Oh blessed are they he chooses!" And I to him: 
"Poet, by that God to you unknown, 

lead me this way. Beyond this present ill 

and worse to dread, lead me to Peter's gate 125 

and be my guide through the sad halls of Hell." 

And he then: "Follow." And he moved ahead 
in silence, and I followed where he led. 


1 . Midway in our life s journey: The Biblical life span is three- 
score years and ten. The action opens in Dante's thirty-fifth year, 
*>.,a.d. 1300. 

17. that planet: The Sun. Ptolemaic astronomers considered it a 
planet. It is also symbolic of God as He who lights man's way. 

31. each footfall rose above the last: The literal rendering would 
be: "So that the fixed foot was ever the lower." "Fixed" has often 
been translated "right" and an ingenious reasoning can support that 
reading, but a simpler explanation offers itself and seems more 
competent: Dante is saying that he climbed with such zeal and haste 
that every footfall carried him above the last despite the steepness of 
the climb. At a slow pace, on the other hand, the rear foot might be 
brought up only as far as the forward foot. This device of selecting a 
minute but exactly centered detail to convey the whole of a larger 
action is one of the central characteristics of Dante's style. 

THE THREE BEASTS. These three beasts undoubtedly are taken 
from Jeremiah, v, 6. Many additional and incidental interpretations 
have been advanced for them, but the central interpretation must re- 
main as noted. They foreshadow the three divisions of Hell (incon- 
tinence, violence, and fraud) which Virgil explains at length in 
Canto XI, 16-1 1 1 . 1 am not at all sure but what the She- Wolf is bet- 
ter interpreted as Fraud and the Leopard as Incontinence. Good ar- 
guments can be offered either way. 

Canto I 9 

38-39. Aries . . . that rode with him to light the new creation: The 
medieval tradition had it that the sun was in Aries at the time of the 
Creation. The significanee of the astronomical and religious eon 
junction is an important part of Dante's intended allegory. It is just 
before dawn of Good Friday a.d. 1 300 when he awakens in the Dark 
Wood. Thus his new life begins under Aries, the sign of creation, at 
dawn (rebirth) and in the Easter season (resurrection). Moreover the 
Moon is full and the Sun is in the equinox, conditions that did not 
fall together on any Friday of 1 300. Dante is obviously constructing 
poetically the perfect Easter as a symbol of his new awakening. 

69. sub Julio: In the reign of Julius Caesar. 

95-98. The Greyhound . . . Feltro and Feltro: Almost certainly 
refers to Can Grande della Scala ( 1 290-1 329), great Italian leader born 
in Verona, which lies between the towns of Feltre and Montefeltro. 

100-101 . Nisus, Turnus, Euryalus, Camilla: All were killed in the war 
between the Trojans and the Latians when, according to legend, Aeneas 
led the survivors of Troy into Italy. Nisus and Euryalus (Aeneid, IX) 
were Trojan comrades-in-arms who died together. Camilla (Aeneid, XI) 
was the daughter of the Latian king and one of the warrior women. She 
was killed in a horse charge against the Trojans after displaying great 
gallantry. Turnus (Aeneid, XH) was killed by Aeneas in a duel. 

110. the second death: Damnation. "This is the second death, 
even the lake of fire." (Revelations, xx, 14) 

1 IS. forbids me to come there since, living, etc.: Salvation is only 
through Christ in Dante's theology. Virgil lived and died before the 
establishment of Christ's teachings in Rome, and cannot therefore 
enter Heaven. 

125. Peter's gate: The gate of Purgatory. (See Purgatorio, IX, 76 
ff.) The gate is guarded by an angel with a gleaming sword. The an- 
gel is Peter's vicar (Peter, the first Pope, symbolized all Popes; i.e., 
Christ's vicar on earth) and is entrusted with the two great keys. 

Some commentators argue that this is the gate of Paradise, but 
Dante mentions no gate beyond this one in his ascent to Heaven. It 
should be remembered, too, that those who pass the gate of Purga- 
tory have effectively entered Heaven. 

The three great gates that figure in the entire journey are the gate 
of Hell (Canto III, 1-11), the gate of Dis (Canto VIII, 79-113, and 
Canto IX, 86-87), and the gate of Purgatory, as above. 

Canto II 

The Descent 

It is evening of the first day (Friday). Dante is following Vir- 
gil and finds himself tired and despairing. How can he be 
worthy of such a vision as Virgil has described? He hesitates 
and seems about to abandon his first purpose. 

To comfort him Virgil explains how Beatrice descended to 
him in Limbo and told him of her concern for Dante. It is she, 
the symbol of Divine Love, who sends Virgil to lead Dante 
from error. She has come into Hell itself on this errand, for 
Dante cannot come to Divine Love unaided; Reason must 
lead him. Moreover Beatrice has been sent with the prayers 
of the Virgin Mary (COMPASSION), and of Saint Lucia (DI- 
figures in the heavenly scene which Virgil recounts. 

Virgil explains all this and reproaches Dante: how can he 
hesitate longer when such heavenly powers are concerned 
for him, and Virgil himself has promised to lead him safely? 

Dante understands at once that such forces cannot fail 
him, and his spirits rise in joyous anticipation. 

The light was departing. The brown air drew down 
all the earth's creatures, calling them to rest 
from their day-roving, as I, one man alone, 

prepared myself to face the double war 
of the journey and the pity, which memory 
shall here set down, nor hesitate, nor err. 


Canto 11 / / 

O Muses! O High Genius! Be my aid! 
O Memory, recorder of the vision, 
here shall your true nobility be displayed! 

Thus I began: "Poet, you who must guide me, 1 

before you trust me to that arduous passage, 
look to me and look through me — can I be worthy? 

You sang how the father of Sylvius, while still 
in corruptible flesh won to that other world, 
crossing with mortal sense the immortal sill. 1 5 

But if the Adversary of all Evil 

weighing his consequence and who and what 
should issue from him, treated him so well — 

that cannot seem unfitting to thinking men, 

since he was chosen father of Mother Rome 20 

and of her Empire by God's will and token. 

Both, to speak strictly, were founded and foreknown 
as the established Seat of Holiness 
for the successors of Great Peter's throne. 

In that quest, which your verses celebrate, 25 

he learned those mysteries from which arose 
his victory and Rome's apostolate. 

There later came the chosen vessel, Paul, 
bearing the confirmation of that Faith 
which is the one true door to life eternal. 30 

But I — how should I dare? By whose permission? 
/ am not Aeneas. / am not Paul. 
Who could believe me worthy of the vision? 

How, then, may I presume to this high quest 

and not fear my own brashness? You are wise 35 

and will grasp what my poor words can but suggest." 

12 The Inferno 

As one who unwills what he wills, will stay 
strong purposes with feeble second thoughts 
until he spells all his first zeal away — 

so I hung back and balked on that dim coast 40 

till thinking had worn out my enterprise, 
so stout at starting and so early lost. 

"I understand from your words and the look in your eyes," 
that shadow of magnificence answered me, 
"your soul is sunken in that cowardice 45 

that bears down many men, turning their course 
and resolution by imagined perils, 
as his own shadow turns the frightened horse. 

To free you of this dread I will tell you all 

of why I came to you and what I heard 50 

when first I pitied you. I was a soul 

among the souls of Limbo, when a Lady 
so blessed and so beautiful, I prayed her 
to order and command my will, called to me. 

Her eyes were kindled from the lamps of Heaven. 55 

Her voice reached through me, tender, sweet, and low. 
An angel's voice, a music of its own: 

'O gracious Mantuan whose melodies 
live in earth's memory and shall live on 
till the last motion ceases in the skies, 60 

my dearest friend, and fortune's foe, has strayed 
onto a friendless shore and stands beset 
by such distresses that he turns afraid 

from the True Way, and news of him in Heaven 

rumors my dread he is already lost. 65 

I come, afraid that I am too-late risen. 

Canto II 13 

Fly to him and with your high counsel, pity, 
and with whatever need be for his good 
and soul's salvation, help him, and solace me. 

It is I, Beatrice, who send you to him. 70 

I come from the blessed height for which I yearn. 
Love called me here. When amid Seraphim 

I stand again before my Lord, your praises 

shall sound in Heaven/ She paused, and I began: 

'O Lady of that only grace that raises 75 

feeble mankind within its mortal cycle 

above all other works God's will has placed 
within the heaven of the smallest circle; 

so welcome is your command that to my sense, 

were it already fulfilled, it would yet seem tardy. 80 

I understand, and am all obedience. 

But tell me how you dare to venture thus 
so far from the wide heaven of your joy 
to which your thoughts yearn back from this abyss.' 

'Since what you ask,' she answered me, 'probes near 85 
the root of all, I will say briefly only 
how I have come through Hell's pit without fear. 

Know then, O waiting and compassionate soul, 
that is to fear which has the power to harm, 
and nothing else is fearful even in Hell. 90 

I am so made by God's all-seeing mercy 

your anguish does not touch me, and the flame 
of this great burning has no power upon me. 

There is a Lady in Heaven so concerned 

for him I send you to, that for her sake 95 

the strict decree is broken. She has turned 

14 The Inferno 

and called Lucia to her wish and mercy 
saying: "Thy faithful one is sorely pressed; 
in his distresses I commend him to thee." 

Lucia, that soul of light and foe of all 1 00 

cruelty, rose and came to me at once 
where I was sitting with the ancient Rachel, 

saying to me: "Beatrice, true praise of God, 
why dost thou not help him who loved thee so 
that for thy sake he left the vulgar crowd? 105 

Dost thou not hear his cries? Canst thou not see 
the death he wrestles with beside that river 
no ocean can surpass for rage and fury?" 

No soul of earth was ever as rapt to seek 

its good or flee its injury as I was — 110 

when I had heard my sweet Lucia speak — 

to descend from Heaven and my blessed seat 
to you, laying my trust in that high speech 
that honors you and all who honor it.' 

She spoke and turned away to hide a tear 115 

that, shining, urged me faster. So I came 
and freed you from the beast that drove you there, 

blocking the near way to the Heavenly Height. 
And now what ails you? Why do you lag? Why 
this heartsick hesitation and pale fright 1 20 

when three such blessed Ladies lean from Heaven 
in their concern for you and my own pledge 
of the great good that waits you has been given?" 

As flowerlets drooped and puckered in the night 

turn up to the returning sun and spread 1 25 

their petals wide on his new warmth and light — 

Canto II 15 

just so my wilted spirits rose again 

and such a heat of zeal surged through my veins 
that I was born anew. Thus I began: 

"Blessed be that Lady of infinite pity, 1 30 

and blessed be thy taxed and courteous spirit 
that came so promptly on the word she gave thee. 

Thy words have moved my heart to its first purpose. 
My Guide! My Lord! My Master! Now lead on: 
one will shall serve the two of us in this." 1 35 

He turned when I had spoken, and at his back 
I entered on that hard and perilous track. 



Here is a fair example of the way in which Dante absorbed pagan 
themes into his Catholicism. 

According to Virgil, Aeneas is the son of mortal Anchises and of 
Venus. Venus, in her son's interest, secures a prophecy and a 
promise from Jove to the effect that Aeneas is to found a royal line 
that shall rule the world. After the burning of Troy, Aeneas is di- 
rected by various signs to sail for the Latian lands (Italy) where his 
destiny awaits him. After many misadventures, he is compelled 
(like Dante) to descend to the underworld of the dead. There he finds 
his father's shade, and there he is shown the shades of the great 
kings that are to stem from him. (Aeneid, VI, 921 ff.) Among them 
are Romulus, Julius Caesar, and Augustus Caesar. The full glory of 
the Roman Empire is also foreshadowed to him. 

Dante, however, continues the Virgilian theme and includes in 
the predestination not only the Roman Empire but the Holy Roman 
Empire and its Church. Thus what Virgil presented as an arrange- 
ment of Jove, a concession to the son of Venus, becomes part of the 
divine scheme of the Catholic God, and Aeneas is cast as a direct 
forerunner of Peter and Paul. 

1 3. father of Sylvius: Aeneas. 

16 The Inferno 

51-52. / was a soul among the souls of Limbo: See Canto IV, 
lines 3 1-45, where Virgil explains his state in Hell. 

78. the heaven of the smallest circle: The Moon. "Heaven" here 
is used in its astronomical sense. All within that circle is the earth. 
According to the Ptolemaic system the earth was the center of cre- 
ation and was surrounded by nine heavenly spheres (nine heavens) 
concentrically placed around it. The Moon was the first of these, and 
therefore the smallest. A cross section of this universe could be rep- 
resented by drawing nine concentric circles (at varying distances 
about the earth as a center). Going outward from the center these 
circles would indicate, in order, the spheres of 

The Moon 



The Sun 




The Fixed Stars 

The Primum Mobile 

Beyond the Primum Mobile lies the Empyrean. 

97. Lucia (Loo-TCHEE-yah): Allegorically she represents Di- 
vine Light. Her name in Italian inevitably suggests "luce" (light), 
and she is the patron saint of eyesight. By a process quite common 
in medieval religion, the special powers attributed to Lucia seem to 
have been suggested by her name rather than her history. (In France, 
by a similar process, St. Clair is the patroness of sight.) 

102. Rachel: Represents the Contemplative Life. 

A note on "thee" and "thou": except for the quotations from the 
souls in Heaven, and for Dante's fervent declamation to Virgil, I 
have insisted on "you" as the preferable pronoun form. I have used 
"thee" and "thou" in these cases with the idea that they might help to 
indicate the extraordinary elevation of the speakers and of the per- 
sons addressed. 

Canto III 

the vestibule of hell The Opportunists 

The Poets pass the Gate of Hell and are immediately assailed 
by cries of anguish. Dante sees the first of the souls in tor- 
ment. They are THE OPPORTUNISTS, those souls who in 
life were neither for good nor evil but only for themselves. 
Mixed with them are those outcasts who took no sides in the 
Rebellion of the Angels. They are neither in Hell nor out of it. 
Eternally unclassified, they race round and round pursuing a 
wavering banner that runs forever before them through the 
dirty air; and as they run they are pursued by swarms of 
wasps and hornets, who sting them and produce a constant 
flow of blood and putrid matter which trickles down the bod- 
ies of the sinners and is feasted upon by loathsome worms 
and maggots who coat the ground. 

The law of Dante's Hell is the law of symbolic retribution. 
As they sinned so are they punished. They took no sides, 
therefore they are given no place. As they pursued the ever- 
shifting illusion of their own advantage, changing their courses 
with every changing wind, so they pursue eternally an elu- 
sive, ever-shifting banner. As their sin was a darkness, so they 
move in darkness. As their own guilty conscience pursued 
them, so they are pursued by swarms of wasps and hornets. 
And as their actions were a moral filth, so they run eternally 
through the filth of worms and maggots which they them- 

Dante recognizes several, among them POPE CELES- 
TINE V, but without delaying to speak to any of these souls, 
the Poets move on to ACHERON, the first of the rivers of 
Hell. Here the newly arrived souls of the damned gather and 


18 The Inferno 

wait for monstrous CHARON to ferry them over to punish- 
ment. Charon recognizes Dante as a living man and angrily 
refuses him passage. Virgil forces Charon to serve them, but 
Dante swoons with terror, and does not reawaken until he is 
on the other side. 








These mysteries I read cut into stone 10 

above a gate. And turning I said: "Master, 
what is the meaning of this harsh inscription?" 

And he then as initiate to novice: 

"Here must you put by all division of spirit 

and gather your soul against all cowardice. 1 5 

This is the place I told you to expect. 

Here you shall pass among the fallen people, 
souls who have lost the good of intellect." 

So saying, he put forth his hand to me, 

and with a gentle and encouraging smile 20 

he led me through the gate of mystery. 

Here sighs and cries and wails coiled and recoiled 
on the starless air, spilling my soul to tears. 
A confusion of tongues and monstrous accents toiled 

Canto III 19 

in pain and anger. Voices hoarse and shrill 25 

and sounds of blows, all intermingled, raised 
tumult and pandemonium that still 

whirls on the air forever dirty with it 
as if a whirlwind sucked at sand. And I, 
holding my head in horror, cried: "Sweet Spirit, 30 

what souls are these who run through this black haze?" 
And he to me: "These are the nearly soulless 
whose lives concluded neither blame nor praise. 

They are mixed here with that despicable corps 

of angels who were neither for God nor Satan, 35 

but only for themselves. The High Creator 

scourged them from Heaven for its perfect beauty, 
and Hell will not receive them since the wicked 
might feel some glory over them." And I: 

"Master, what gnaws at them so hideously 40 

their lamentation stuns the very air?" 
"They have no hope of death," he answered me, 

"and in their blind and unattaining state 
their miserable lives have sunk so low 
that they must envy every other fate. 45 

No word of them survives their living season. 
Mercy and Justice deny them even a name. 
Let us not speak of them: look, and pass on." 

I saw a banner there upon the mist. 

Circling and circling, it seemed to scorn all pause. 50 

So it ran on, and still behind it pressed 

a never-ending rout of souls in pain. 

I had not thought death had undone so many 
as passed before me in that mournful train. 

20 The Inferno 

And some I knew among them; last of all 55 

I recognized the shadow of that soul 
who, in his cowardice, made the Great Denial. 

At once I understood for certain: these 
were of that retrograde and faithless crew 
hateful to God and to His enemies. 60 

These wretches never born and never dead 
ran naked in a swarm of wasps and hornets 
that goaded them the more the more they fled, 

and made their faces stream with bloody gouts 

of pus and tears that dribbled to their feet 65 

to be swallowed there by loathsome worms and maggots. 

Then looking onward I made out a throng 
assembled on the beach of a wide river, 
whereupon I turned to him: "Master, I long 

to know what souls these are, and what strange usage 70 
makes them as eager to cross as they seem to be 
in this infected light." At which the Sage: 

"All this shall be made known to you when we stand 
on the joyless beach of Acheron." And I 
cast down my eyes, sensing a reprimand 75 

in what he said, and so walked at his side 
in silence and ashamed until we came 
through the dead cavern to that sunless tide. 

There, steering toward us in an ancient ferry 

came an old man with a white bush of hair, 80 

bellowing: "Woe to you depraved souls! Bury 

here and forever all hope of Paradise: 
I come to lead you to the other shore, 
into eternal dark, into fire and ice. 

Canto 111 21 

And you who are living yet, I say begone 85 

from these who are dead." But when he saw me stand 
against his violence he began again: 

"By other windings and by other steerage 

shall you cross to that other shore. Not here! Not here! 
A lighter craft than mine must give you passage." 90 

And my Guide to him: "Charon, bite back your spleen: 
this has been willed where what is willed must be, 
and is not yours to ask what it may mean." 

The steersman of that marsh of ruined souls, 

who wore a wheel of flame around each eye, 95 

stifled the rage that shook his woolly jowls. 

But those unmanned and naked spirits there 

turned pale with fear and their teeth began to chatter 
at sound of his crude bellow. In despair 

they blasphemed God, their parents, their time on earth, 1 00 
the race of Adam, and the day and the hour 
and the place and the seed and the womb that gave them birth. 

But all together they drew to that grim shore 
where all must come who lose the fear of God. 
Weeping and cursing they come for evermore, 105 

and demon Charon with eyes like burning coals 
herds them in, and with a whistling oar 
flails on the stragglers to his wake of souls. 

As leaves in autumn loosen and stream down 

until the branch stands bare above its tatters 1 1 

spread on the rustling ground, so one by one 

the evil seed of Adam in its Fall 

cast themselves, at his signal, from the shore 
and streamed away like birds who hear their call. 

22 The Inferno 

So they are gone over that shadowy water, 1 15 

and always before they reach the other shore 
a new noise stirs on this, and new throngs gather. 

"My son," the courteous Master said to me, 
"all who die in the shadow of God's wrath 
converge to this from every clime and country. 1 20 

And all pass over eagerly, for here 

Divine Justice transforms and spurs them so 

their dread turns wish: they yearn for what they fear. 

No soul in Grace comes ever to this crossing; 

therefore if Charon rages at your presence 1 25 

you will understand the reason for his cursing." 

When he had spoken, all the twilight country 
shook so violently, the terror of it 
bathes me with sweat even in memory: 

the tear-soaked ground gave out a sigh of wind 1 30 

that spewed itself in flame on a red sky, 
and all my shattered senses left me. Blind, 

like one whom sleep comes over in a swoon, 
I stumbled into darkness and went down. 


7-8. Only those elements time cannot wear: The Angels, the 
Empyrean, and the First Matter are the elements time cannot wear, 
for they will last to all time. Man, however, in his mortal state, is not 
eternal. The Gate of Hell, therefore, was created before man. The 
theological point is worth attention. The doctrine of Original Sin is, 
of course, one familiar to many creeds. Here, however, it would 
seem that the preparation for damnation predates Original Sin. True, 
in one interpretation, Hell was created for the punishment of the Re- 
bellious Angela and not for man. Had man not sinned, he would 
never have known Hell. But on the other hand, Dante's God was one 

Canto III 2 J 

who knew all, and knew therefore that man would indeed sin. The 
theological problem is an extremely delicate one. 

It is significant, however, that having sinned, man lives out his 
days on the rind of Hell, and that damnation is forever below his 
feet. This central concept of man's sinfulness, and, opposed to it, the 
doctrine of Christ's ever-abounding mercy, are central to all of 
Dante's theology. Only as man surrenders himself to Divine Love 
may he hope for salvation, and salvation is open to all who will sur- 
render themselves. 

8. and beyond time I stand: So odious is sin to God that there can 
be no end to its just punishment. 

9. Abandon all hope ye who enter here: The admonition, of 
course, is to the damned and not to those who come on Heaven-sent 
errands. The Harrowing of Hell (see Canto IV, note to 1. 53) pro- 
vided the only exemption from this decree, and that only through 
the direct intercession of Christ. 

57. who, in his cowardice, made the Great Denial: This is almost 
certainly intended to be Celestine V, who became Pope in 1 294. He 
was a man of saintly life, but allowed himself to be convinced by a 
priest named Benedetto that his soul was in danger since no man 
could live in the world without being damned. In fear for his soul 
he withdrew from all worldly affairs and renounced the Papacy. 
Benedetto promptly assumed the mantle himself and became Boni- 
face VIII, a Pope who became for Dante a symbol of all the worst 
corruptions of the Church. Dante also blamed Boniface and his in- 
trigues for many of the evils that befell Florence. We shall learn in 
Canto XIX that the fires of Hell are waiting for Boniface in the pit of 
the Simoniacs, and we shall be given further evidence of his corrup- 
tion in Canto XXVII. Celestine's great guilt is that his cowardice (in 
selfish terror for his own welfare) served as the door through which 
so much evil entered the Church. 

80. an old man: Charon. He is the ferryman of dead souls across 
the Acheron in all classical mythology. 

88-90. By other windings: Charon recognizes Dante not only as a 
living man but as a soul in grace, and knows, therefore, that the In- 
fernal Ferry was not intended for him. He is probably referring to 
the fact that souls destined for Purgatory and Heaven assemble not 


24 The Inferno 

at his ferry point, but on the banks of the Tiber, from which they are 
transported by an Angel. 

100. they blasphemed God: The souls of the damned are not per- 
mitted to repent, for repentance is a divine grace. 

123. they yearn for what they fear: Hell (allegorically Sin) is 
what the souls of the damned really wish for. Hell is their actual and 
deliberate choice, for divine grace is denied to none who wish for it 
in their hearts. The damned must, in fact, deliberately harden their 
hearts to God in order to become damned. Christ's grace is sufficient 
to save all who wish for it. 

133-134. DANTE'S SWOON. This device (repeated at the end 
of Canto V) serves a double purpose. The first is technical: Dante 
uses it to cover a transition. We are never told how he crossed 
Acheron, for that would involve certain narrative matters he can 
better deal with when he crosses Styx in Canto VII. T he second is to 
provide a point ol departure lor a theme that is earned through the 
entire descent: the theme of Dante's emotional reaction to Hell. 
These two swoons early in the descent show him most susceptible to 
the grief about him. As he descends, pity leaves him, and he even 
goes so far as to add to the torments of one sinner. The allegory is 
clear: we must harden ourselves against every sympathy for sin. 

Canto IV 

circle one: limbo The Virtuous Pagans 

Dante wakes to find himself across Acheron. The Poets are 
now on the brink of Hell itself which Dante conceives as 
a great funnel-shaped cave lying below the northern hemi- 
sphere with its bottom point at the earth \s center. Around (his 
great circular depression runs a series of ledges, each of 
which Dante calls a CIRCLE. Each circle is assigned to the 
punishment of one category of sin. 

As soon as Dante s strength returns, the Poets begin to cross 
the FIRST CIRCLE. Here they find the VIRTUOUS PAGANS. 
They were bom without the light of Christ s revelation, and, 
therefore, they cannot come into the light of God, but they are 
not tormented. Their only pain is that they have no hope. 

Ahead of them Dante sights a great dome of light, and a voice 
trumpets through the darkness welcoming Virgil back, for this 
is his eternal place in Hell. Immediately the great Poets of all 
time appear— HOMER, HORACE, OVID, and LUCAN. They 
greet Virgil, and they make Dante a sixth in their company. 

With them Dante enters the Citadel of Human Reason and 
sees before his eyes the Master Souls of Pagan Antiquity 
gathered on a green, and illuminated by the radiance of Hu- 
man Reason. This is the highest state man can achieve with- 
out God, and the glory of it dazzles Dante, but he knows also 
that it is nothing compared to the glory of God. 

A monstrous clap of thunder broke apart 

the swoon that stuffed my head; like one awakened 
by violent hands, I leaped up with a start. 


Canto IV 27 

And having risen; rested and renewed, 

I studied out the landmarks of the gloom 5 

to find my bearings there as best I could. 

And I found I stood on the very brink of the valley 
called the Dolorous Abyss, the desolate chasm 
where rolls the thunder of Hell's eternal cry, 

so depthless-deep and nebulous and dim 1 

that stare as I might into its frightful pit 
it gave me back no feature and no bottom. 

Death-pale, the Poet spoke: "Now let us go 
into the blind world waiting here below us. 
I will lead the way and you shall follow." 1 5 

And I, sick with alarm at his new pallor, 
cried out, "How can I go this way when you 
who are my strength in doubt turn pale with terror?" 

And he: "The pain of these below us here, 

drains the color from my face for pity, 20 

and leaves this pallor you mistake for fear. 

Now let us go, for a long road awaits us." 
So he entered and so he led me in 
to the first circle and ledge of the abyss. 

No tortured wailing rose to greet us here 25 

but sounds of sighing rose from every side, 
sending a tremor through the timeless air, 

a grief breathed out of untormented sadness, 
the passive state of those who dwelled apart, 
men, women, children — a dim and endless congress. 30 

And the Master said to me: "You do not question 
what souls these are that suffer here before you? 
I wish you to know before you travel on 

28 The Inferno 

that these were sinless. And still their merits fail, 

for they lacked Baptism's grace, which is the door 35 

of the true faith you were born to. Their birth fell 

before the age of the Christian mysteries, 
and so they did not worship God's Trinity 
in fullest duty. I am one of these. 

For such defects are we lost, though spared the fire 40 

and suffering Hell in one affliction only: 
that without hope we live on in desire." 

I thought how many worthy souls there were 
suspended in that Limbo, and a weight 
closed on my heart for what the noblest suffer. 45 

"Instruct me, Master and most noble Sir," 
I prayed him then, "better to understand 
the perfect creed that conquers every error: 

has any, by his own or another's merit, 

gone ever from this place to blessedness?" 50 

He sensed my inner question and answered it: 

"I was still new to this estate of tears 

when a Mighty One descended here among us, 
crowned with the sign of His victorious years. 

He took from us the shade of our first parent, 55 

of Abel, his pure son, of ancient Noah, 
of Moses, the bringer of law, the obedient. 

Father Abraham, David the King, 
Israel with his father and his children, 
Rachel, the holy vessel of His-blessing, 60 

and many more He chose for elevation 

among the elect. And before these, you must know, 
no human soul had ever won salvation." 

Canto IV 29 

We had not paused as he spoke, but held our road 

and passed meanwhile beyond a press of souls 65 

crowded about like trees in a thick wood. 

And we had not traveled far from where I woke 
when I made out a radiance before us 
that struck away a hemisphere of dark. 

We were still some distance back in the long night, 70 

yet near enough that I half-saw, half-sensed, 
what quality of souls lived in that light. 

"O ornament of wisdom and of art, 

what souls are these whose merit lights their way 

even in Hell. What joy sets them apart?" 75 

And he to me: "The signature of honor 
they left on earth is recognized in Heaven 
and wins them ease in Hell out of God's favor." 

And as he spoke a voice rang on the air: 

"Honor the Prince of Poets; fhe soul and glory 80 

that went from us returns, fie is here! He is here!" 

The cry ceased and the echo passed from hearing; 
I saw four mighty presences come toward us 

with neither joy nor sorrow in their bearing. 

*" " ' < 

"Note well," my Master said as they came on, 85 

"that soul that leads the rest with sword in hand 
as if he were their captain and champion. 

It is Homer, singing master of the earth. 
Next after him is Horace, the satirist, 
Ovid is third, and Lucan is the fourth. 90 

Since all of these have part in the high name 

the voice proclaimed, calling me Prince of Poets, 
the honor that they do me honors them." 

30 The Inferno 

So I saw gathered at the edge of light 
the masters of that highest school whose song 95 

outsoars all others like an eagle's flight. 

And after they had talked together a while, 
they turned and welcomed me most graciously, 
at which I saw my approving Master smile. 

And they honored me far beyond courtesy, 1 00 

for they included me in their own number, 
making me sixth in that high company. 

So we moved toward the light, and as we passed 
we spoke of things as well omitted here 
as it was sweet to touch on there. At last 105 

we reached the base of a great Citadel 
circled by seven towering battlements 
and by a sweet brook flowing round them all. 

This we passed over as if it were firm ground. 

Through seven gates I entered with those sages 110 

and came to a green meadow blooming round. 

There with a solemn and majestic poise 
stood many people gathered in the light, 
speaking infrequently and with muted voice. 

Past that enameled green we six withdrew 115 

into a luminous and open height 
from which each soul among them stood in view. 

And there directly before me on the green 
the master souls of time were shown to me. 
I glory in the glory I have seen ! 1 20 

Electra stood in a great company 

among whom I saw Hector and Aeneas 
and Caesar in armor with his falcon's eye. 

Canto IV 31 

I saw Camilla, and the Queen Amazon 
* across the field. I saw the Latian King 125 

seated there with his daughter by histhrone. 

And the good Brutus who overthrew the Tarquin: 
Lucrezia, Julia, Marcia, and Cornelia; 
£nd, by himself apart, the Saladin. 

And raising my eyes a little I saw on high 1 30 

^ristotle, the master of those who know, 
ringed by the great souls of philosophy. 

All wait upon him for their honor and his. 
I saw Socrates and Plato at his side 
before all others there. Democritus 1 35 

who ascribes the world to chance, Diogenes, 
and with him there Thales, Anaxagoras, 
Zeno, Heraclitus, Empedocles. 

And I saw the wise collector and analyst — 

Dioscorides I mean. I saw Orpheus there, 140 

Tully, Linus, Seneca the moralist, 
/ * 

< Euclid the geometer, and Ptolemy, 
( Hippocrates, Galen, Avicenna, 

and Averroes of the Great Commentary. 

I cannot count so much nobility; 145 

my longer theme pursues me so that often 
the word falls short of the reality. 

The company of six is reduced by four. 
My Master leads me by another road 
out of that serenity to the roar 1 50 

and trembling air of Hell. I pass from light 
into the kingdom of eternal night. 

32 The Inferno 


13 ff. death-pale: Virgil is most likely affected here by the return 
to his own place in Hell. "The pain of these below" then (line 19) 
would be the pain of his own group in Limbo (the Virtuous Pagans) 
rather than the total of Hell's suffering. 

3 1 ff. You do not question: A master touch of characterization. 
Virgil's amour propre is a bit piqued at Dante's lack of curiosity 
about the position in Hell of Virgil's own kind. And it may possibly 
be, by allegorical extension, that Human Reason must urge the soul 
to question the place of reason. The allegorical point is conjectural, 
but such conjecture is certainly one of the effects inherent in the 
use of allegory; when well used, the central symbols of the allegory 
continue indefinitely to suggest new interpretations and shades of 

53. a Mighty One: Christ. His name is never directly uttered in 

53. descended here: The legend of the Harrowing of Hell is 
Apocryphal. It is based on I Peter, iii, 19: "He went and preached 
unto the spirits in prison." The legend is that Christ in the glory of 
His resurrection descended into Limbo and took with Him to 
Heaven the first human souls to be saved. The event would, accord- 
ingly, have occurred in a.d. 33 or 34. Virgil died in 19 B.C. 

102. making me sixth in that high company: Merit and self- 
awareness of merit may well be a higher thing than modesty. An 
additional point Dante may well have had in mind, however, is the 
fact that he saw himself as one pledged to continue in his own times 
the classic tradition represented by these poets. 

103-105. These lines amount to a stylistic note. It is good style 
( 7 tacere e hello where hello equals "good style") to omit this dis- 
cussion, since it would digress from the subject and, moreover, his 
point is already made. Every great narrator tends to tell his story 
from climax to climax. There are times on the other hand when 
Dante delights in digression. (See General Note to Canto XX.) 

106. A GREAT CITADEL. The most likely allegory is that the 
Citadel represents philosophy (that is, human reason without the 
light of God) surrounded by seven walls which represent the seven 

Canto IV 33 

liberal arts, or the seven sciences, or the seven virtues. Note that Hu- 
man Reason makes a light of its own, but that it is a light in darkness 
and forever separated from the glory of God's light. The sweet brook 
flowing round them all has been interpreted in many ways. Clearly 
fundamental, however, is the fact that it divides those in the Citadel 
(those who wish to know) from those in the outer darkness. 

109. as if it were firm ground: Since Dante still has his body, and 
since all others in Hell are incorporeal shades, there is a recurring 
narrative problem in the Inferno (and through the rest of the Corn- 
media): how does flesh act in contact with spirit? In the Purgatorio 
Dante attempts to embrace the spirit of Casella and his arms pass 
through him as if he were empty air. In the Third Circle, below 
(Canto VI, 34-36), Dante steps on some of the spirits lying in the 
slush and his foot passes right through them. (The original lines of- 
fer several possible readings of which I have preferred this one.) 
And at other times Virgil, also a spirit, picks Dante up and carries 
him bodily. 

It is clear, too, that Dante means the spirits of Hell to be weight- 
less. When Virgil steps into Phlegyas' bark (Canto VIII) it does not 
settle into the water, but it does when Dante's living body steps 
aboard. There is no narrative reason why Dante should not sink into 
the waters of this stream and Dante follows no fixed rule in dealing 
with such phenomena, often suiting the physical action to the alle- 
gorical need. Here, the moat probably symbolizes some require- 
ment (The Will to Know) which he and the other poets meet without 

main groups: 

1 . The heroes and heroines: All of these it must be noted were as- 
sociated with the Trojans and their Roman descendants. (See note 
Electra Dante mentions here is not the sister of Orestes (see Euripi- 
des' Electro) but the daughter of Atlas and the mother of Dardanus, 
the founder of Troy. 

2. The philosophers: Most of this group is made up of philosophers 
whose teachings were, at least in part, acceptable to Church schol- 
arship. Democritus, however, "who ascribes the world to chance," 
would clearly be an exception. The group is best interpreted, there- 

34 The Inferno 

fore, as representing the highest achievements of Human Reason 
unaided by Divine Love. Plato and Aristotle: Through a consider- 
able part of the Middle Ages Plato was held to be the fountainhead 
of all scholarship, but in Dante's time practically all learning was 
based on Aristotelian theory as interpreted through the many com- 
mentaries. Linus: the Italian is "Lino" and for it some commentators 
read "Livio" (Livy). 

3. The naturalists: They are less well known today. In Dante's 
time their place in scholarship more or less corresponded to the role 
of the theoretician and historian of science in our universities. Avi- 
cenna (his major work was in the eleventh century) and Averroes 
(twelfth century) were Arabian philosophers and physicians espe- 
cially famous in Dante's time for their commentaries on Aristotle. 
Great Commentary: has the force of a title, i.e., The Great Commen- 
tary as distinguished from many lesser commentaries. 

The Saladin: This is the famous Saladin who was defeated by 
Richard the Lion-Heart, and whose great qualities as a ruler became 
a legend in medieval Europe. 

Canto V 

a»- <ll i 

circle two The Carnal 

The Poets leave Limbo and enter the SECOND CIRCLE. Here 
begin the torments of Hell proper, and here, blocking the way, 
sits MINOS, the dread and semi-bestial judge of the damned 
who assigns to each soul its eternal torment. He orders the 
Poets back; but Virgil silences him as he earlier silenced 
Charon, and the Poets move on. 

They find themselves on a dark ledge swept by a great 
whirlwind, which spins within it the souls of the CARNAL, 
those who betrayed reason to their appetites. Their sin was to 
abandon themselves to the tempest of their passions: so they 
are swept forever in the tempest of Hell, forever denied the 
light of reason and of God. Virgil identifies many among 
-them. SEM1RAMIS is there, and DIDO, CLEOPATRA, HE- 
and FRANCESCA swept together, and in the name of love he 
calls to them to tell their sad story. They pause from their 
eternal flight to come to him, and Francesca tells their his- 
tory while Paolo weeps at her side. Dante is so stricken by 
compassion at their tragic tale that he swoons once again. 

So we went down to the second ledge alone; 
a smaller circle of so much greater pain 
the voice of the damned rose in a bestial moan. 

There Minos sits, grinning, grotesque, and hale. 
He examines each lost soul as it arrives 
and delivers his verdict with his coiling tail. 


36 The Inferno 

That is to say, when the ill-fated soul 
appears before him it confesses all, 
and that grim sorter of the dark and foul 

decides which place in Hell shall be its end, 10 

then wraps his twitching tail about himself 
one coil for each degree it must descend. 

The soul descends and others take its place: 

each crowds in its turn to judgment, each confesses, 
each hears its doom and falls away through space. 15 

"O you who come into this camp of woe," 
cried Minos when he saw me turn away 
without awaiting his judgment, "watch where you go 

once you have entered here, and to whom you turn! 

Do not be misled by that wide and easy passage !" 20 

And my Guide to him: "That is not your concern; 

it is his fate to enter every door. 

This has been willed where what is willed must be, 
and is not yours to question. Say no more." 

Now the choir of anguish, like a wound, 25 

strikes through the tortured air. Now I have come 
to Hell's full lamentation, sound beyond sound. 

I came to a place stripped bare of every light 
and roaring on the naked dark like seas 
wracked by a war of winds. Their hellish flight 30 

of storm and counterstorm through time foregone, 
sweeps the souls of the damned before its charge. 
Whirling and battering it drives them on, 

and when they pass the ruined gap of Hell 

through which we had come, their shrieks begin anew. 35 
There they blaspheme the power of God eternal. 

Canto V 37 

And this, I learned, was the never-ending flight 

of those who sinned in the flesh, the carnal and lusty 
who betrayed reason to their appetite. 

As the wings of wintering starlings bear them on 40 

in their great wheeling flights, just so the blast 
wherries these evil souls through time foregone. 

Here, there, up, down, they whirl and, whirling, strain 
with never a hope of hope to comfort them, 
not of release, but even of less pain. 45 

As cranes go over sounding their harsh cry, 
leaving the long streak of their flight in air, 
so come these spirits, wailing as they fly. 

And watching their shadows lashed by wind, I cried: 

"Master, what souls are these the very air 50 

lashes with its black whips from side to side?" 

"The first of these whose history you would know," 
he answered me, "was Empress of many tongues. 
Mad sensuality corrupted her so 

that to hide the guilt of her debauchery 55 

she licensed all depravity alike, 
and lust and law were one in her decree. 

She is Semiramis of whom the tale is told 
how she married Ninus and succeeded him 
to the throne of that wide land the Sultans hold. 60 

The other is Dido; faithless to the ashes 
of Sichaeus, she killed herself for love. 
The next whom the eternal tempest lashes 

is sense-drugged Cleopatra. See Helen there, 

from whom such ill arose. And great Achilles, 65 

who fought at last with love in the house of prayer. 

38 The Inferno 

And Paris. And Tristan." As they whirled above 
he pointed out more than a thousand shades 
of those torn from the mortal life by love. 

I stood there while my Teacher one by one 70 

named the great knights and ladies of dim time; 
and I was swept by pity and confusion. 

At last I spoke: "Poet, I should be glad 

to speak a word with those two swept together 

so lightly on the wind and still so sad." 75 

And he to me: "Watch them. When next they pass, 
call to them in the name of love that drives 
and damns them here. In that name they will pause." 

Thus, as soon as the wind in its wild course 

brought them around, I called: "O wearied souls ! 80 

if none forbid it, pause and speak to us." 

As mating doves that love calls to their nest 

glide through the air with motionless raised wings, 
borne by the sweet desire that fills each breast — 

Just so those spirits turned on the torn sky 85 

from the band where Dido whirls across the air; 
such was the power of pity in my cry. 

"O living creature, gracious, kind, and good, 
going this pilgrimage through the sick night, 
visiting us who stained the earth with blood, 90 

were the King of Time our friend, we would pray His peace 
on you who have pitied us. As long as the wind 
will let us pause, ask of us what you please. 

The town where I was born lies by the shore 

where the Po descends into its ocean rest 95 

with its attendant streams in one long murmur. 

Canto V 39 

Love, which in gentlest hearts will soonest bloom, 
seized my lover with passion for that sweet body 
from which I was torn unshriven to my doom. 

Love, which permits no loved one not to love, 1 00 

took me so strongly with delight in him 
that we are one in Hell, as we were above. 

Love led us to one death. In the depths of Hell 
Cai'na waits for him who took our lives." 
This was the piteous tale they stopped to tell. 105 

And when I had heard those world-offended lovers 
I bowed my head. At last the Poet spoke: 
"What painful thoughts are these your lowered brow covers?" 

When at length I answered, I began: "Alas! 

What sweetest thoughts, what green and young desire 1 1 
led these two lovers to this sorry pass." 

Then turning to those spirits once again, 
I said: "Francesca, what you suffer here 
melts me to tears of pity and of pain. 

But tell me: in the time of your sweet sighs 1 15 

by what appearances found love the way 
to lure you to his perilous paradise?" 

And she: "The double grief of a lost bliss 
is to recall its happy hour in pain. 
Your Guide and Teacher knows the truth of this. 1 20 

But if there is indeed a soul in Hell 
to ask of the beginning of our love 
out of his pity, I will weep and tell: 

On a day for dalliance we read the rhyme 

of Lancelot, how love had mastered him. 1 25 

We were alone with innocence and dim time. 

40 The Inferno 

Pause after pause that high old story drew 
our eyes together while we blushed and paled; 
but it was one soft passage overthrew 

our caution and our hearts. For when we read 1 30 

how her fond smile was kissed by such a lover, 
he who is one with me alive and dead 

breathed on my lips the tremor of his kiss. 
That book, and he who wrote it, was a pander. 
That day we read no further." As she said this, 1 35 

the other spirit, who stood by her, wept 
so piteously, I felt my senses reel 
and faint away with anguish. I was swept 

by such a swoon as death is, and I fell, 

as a corpse might fall, to the dead floor of Hell. 140 


2. a smaller circle: The pit of Hell tapers like a funnel. The circles 
of ledges accordingly grow smaller as they descend. 

4. Minos: Like all the monsters Dante assigns to the various of- 
fices of Hell, Minos is drawn from classical mythology. He was the 
son of Europa and of Zeus who descended to her in the form of a 
bull. Minos became a mythological king of Crete, so famous for his 
wisdom and justice that after death his soul was made judge of the 
dead. Virgil presents him fulfilling the same office at Aeneas' de- 
scent to the underworld. Dante, however, transforms him into an 
irate and hideous monster with a tail. The transformation may have 
been suggested by the form Zeus assumed for the rape of Europa — 
the monster is certainly bullish enough here — but the obvious pur- 
pose of the brutalization is to present a figure symbolic of the guilty 
conscience of the wretches who come before it to make their confes- 
sions. Dante freely reshapes his materials to his own purposes. 

8. it confesses all: Just as the souls appeared eager to cross 
Acheron, so they are eager to confess even while they dread. Dante 

Canto V 41 

is once again making the point that sinners elect their Hell by an act 
of their own will. 

27. Hell's full lamentation: It is with the second circle that the 
real tortures of Hell begin. 

34. the ruined gap of Hell: See note to Canto IV, 53. At the time 
of the Harrowing of Hell a great earthquake shook the underworld, 
shattering rocks and cliffs. Ruins resulting from the same shock are 
noted in Canto XII, 34, and Canto XXI, 112 ff. At the beginning 
of Canto XXIV, the Poets leave the bolgia of the Hypocrites by 
climbing the ruined slabs of a bridge that was shattered by this 

Here begin the punishments for the various sins of Incontinence 
(The sins of the She-Wolf). In the second circle are punished those 
who sinned by excess of sexual passion. Since this is the most nat- 
ural sin and the sin most nearly associated with love, its punishment 
is the lightest of all to be found in Hell proper. The Carnal are 
whirled and buffeted endlessly through the murky air (symbolic of 
the beclouding of their reason by passion) by a great gale (symbolic 
of their lust). 

53. Empress of many tongues: Semiramis, a legendary queen of 
Assyria who assumed full power at the death of her husband, Ninus. 

61 . Dido: Queen and founder of Carthage. She had vowed to re- 
main faithful to her husband, Sichaeus, but she fell in love with Ae- 
neas. When Aeneas abandoned her she stabbed herself on a funeral 
pyre she had had prepared. 

According to Dante's own system of punishment, she should be 
in the Seventh Circle (Canto XIII) with the suicides. The only clue 
Dante gives to the tempering of her punishment is his statement that 
"she killed herself for love." Dante always seems readiest to forgive 
in that name. 

65. Achilles: He is placed among this company because of his 
passion for Polyxena, the daughter of Priam. For love of her, he 
agreed to desert the Greeks and to join the Trojans, but when he 
went to the temple for the wedding (according to the legend Dante 
has followed) he was killed by Paris. 

42 The Inferno 

74. those two swept together: Paolo and Francesca (PAH-oe-loe; 

Dante's treatment of these two lovers is certainly the tenderest 
and most sympathetic accorded any of the sinners in Hell, and leg- 
ends immediately began to grow about this pair. 

The facts are these. In 1275 Giovanni Malatesta (Djoe-VAH-nee 
Mahl-ah-TEH-stah) of Rimini, called Giovanni the Lame, a some- 
what deformed but brave and powerful warrior, made a political 
marriage with Francesca, daughter of Guido da Polenta of Ravenna. 
Francesca came to Rimini and there an amour grew between her and 
Giovanni's younger brother Paolo. Despite the fact that Paolo had 
married in 1269 and had become the father of two daughters by 
1275, his affair with Francesca continued for many years. It was 
sometime between 1283 and 1286 that Giovanni surprised them in 
Francesca's bedroom and killed both of them. 

Around these facts the legend has grown that Paolo was sent by 
Giovanni as his proxy to the marriage, that Francesca thought he 
was her real bridegroom and accordingly gave him her heart irrevo- 
cably at first sight. The legend obviously increases the pathos, but 
nothing in Dante gives it support. 

102. that we are one in Hell, as we were above: At many points of 
the Inferno Dante makes clear the principle that the souls of the 
damned are locked so blindly into their own guilt that none can feel 
sympathy for another, or find any pleasure in the presence of an- 
other. The temptation of many readers is to interpret this line roman- 
tically: i.e., that the love of Paolo and Francesca survives Hell itself. 
The more Dantean interpretation, however, is that they add to one 
another's anguish (a) as mutual reminders of their sin, and (b) as in- 
substantial shades of the bodies for which they once felt such great 

104. Cai'na waits for him: Giovanni Malatesta was still alive at 
the writing. His fate is already decided, however, and upon his 
death, his soul will fall to Cai'na, the first ring of the last circle 
(Canto XXXII), where lie those who performed acts of treachery 
against their kin. 

124-125. the rhyme of Lancelot: The story exists in many forms. 
The details Dante makes use of are from an Old French version. 

Canto V 43 

1 26. dim time: The original simply reads "We were alone, sus- 
pecting nothing." "Dim time" is rhyme-forced, but not wholly out- 
side the legitimate implications of the original, I hope. The old 
courtly romance may well be thought of as happening in the dim an- 
cient days. The apology, of course, comes after the fact: one does the 
possible then argues for justification, and there probably is none. 

1 34. that book, and he who wrote it, was a pander: "Galeotto," 
the Italian word for "pander," is also the Italian rendering of the 
name of Gallehault, who, in the French Romance Dante refers to 
here, urged Lancelot and Guinevere on to love. 

Canto VI 

circle three The Gluttons 

Dante recovers from his swoon and finds himself in the 
THIRD CIRCLE. A great storm of putrefaction falls inces- 
santly, a mixture of stinking snow and freezing rain, which 
forms into a vile slush underfoot. Everything about this Cir- 
cle suggests a gigantic garbage dump. The souls of the damned 
lie in the icy paste, swollen and obscene, and CERBERUS, 
the ravenous three-headed dog of Hell, stands guard over 
them, ripping and tearing them with his claws and teeth. 

These are the GLUTTONS. In life they made no higher use 
of the gifts of God than to wallow in food and drink, produc- 
ers of nothing but garbage and offal. Here they lie through all 
eternity, themselves like garbage, half-buried in fetid slush, 
while Cerberus slavers over them as they in life slavered over 
their food. — — 

As the Poets pass, one of the speakers sits up and addresses 
Dante. He is CIACCO, THE HOG, a citizen of Dante's own 
Florence. He recognizes Dante and asks eagerly for news 
of what is happening there. With the foreknowledge of the 
damned, Ciacco then utters the first of the political prophe- 
cies that are to become a recurring theme of the Inferno. The 
Poets then move on toward the next Circle, at the edge of 
which they encounter the monster PLUTUS. 

My senses had reeled from me out of pity 

lor the sorrow of those kinsmen and lost lovers. 
Now they return, and waking gradually, 


Canto VI 45 

I see new torments and new souls in pain 

about me everywhere. Wherever I turn 5 

away from grief I turn to grief again. 

I am in the Third Circle of the torments. 

Here to all time with neither pause nor change 
the frozen rain of Hell descends in torrents. 

Huge hailstones, dirty water, and black snow 1 

~~ pour from the dismal air to putrefy * X* V ^ <X ^P^L^ 
the putrid slush that waits for them below. 

Here monstrous Cerberus, the ravening beast, 
howls through his triple throats like a mad dog^ 
over the spirits sunk in that foul paste. 1 5 

His eyes are red, his beard is greased with phlegm, 
his belly is swollen, and his hands are claws 
to rip the wretches and flay and mangle them. 

And they, too, howl like dogs in the freezing storm, 

turning and turning from it as if they thought 20 

one naked side could keep the other warm. 

Wheri Cerberus discovered us in that swill 

his dragon-jaws yawed wide, his lips drew back 
in a grin of fangs. No limb of him was still. 

My Guide bent down and seized in either fist 25 

a clod of the stinking dirt that festered there 
and flung them down the gullet of the beast. 

As a hungry cur will set the echoes raving 
and then fall still when he is thrown a bone, 
all of his clamor being in his craving, 30 

so the three ugly heads of Cerberus, 

whose yowling at those wretches deafened them, 
choked on their putrid sops and stopped their fuss. 

46 The Inferno 

We made our way across the sodden mess 

of souls the rain beat down, and when our steps 35 

fell on a body, they sank through emptiness. 

All those illusions of being seemed to lie 

drowned in the slush; until one wraith among them 
sat up abruptly and called as I passed by: 

"O you who are led this journey through the shade 40 

of Hell's abyss, do you recall this face? 
You had been made before I was unmade." 

And I: "Perhaps the pain you suffer here 
distorts your image from my recollection. 
I do not know you as you now appear." 45 

And he to me: "Your own city, so rife 
with hatred that the bitter cup flows over 
was mine too in that other, clearer life. 

Your citizens nicknamed me Ciacco, The Hog: 

gluttony was my offense, and for it 50 

I lie here rotting like a swollen log. 

Nor am I lost in this alone; all these 
you see about you in this painful death 
have wallowed in the same indecencies." 

I answered him: "Ciacco, your agony 55 

weighs on my heart and calls my soul to tears; 
but tell me, if you can, what is to be 

for the citizens of that divided state, 

and whether there are honest men among them, 

and for what reasons we are torn by hate." 60 

And he then: "After many words given and taken 
it shall come to blood; White shall rise over Black 
and rout the dark lord's force, battered and shaken. 

Canto VI 47 

Then it shall come to pass within three suns 

that the fallen shall arise, and by the power 65 

of one now gripped by many hesitations 

Black shall ride on White for many years, 

loading it down with burdens and oppressions 
and humbling of proud names and helpless tears. 

Two are honest, but none will heed them. There, 70 

pride, avarice, and envy are the tongues 
men know and heed, a Babel of despair." 

Here he broke off his mournful prophecy. 
And I to him: "Still let me urge you on 
to speak a little further and instruct me: 75 

Farinata and Tegghiaio, men of good blood, 
i Jacopo Rusticucci, Arrigo, Mosca, 
(^ and the others who set their hearts on doing good — 

where are they now whose high deeds might be-gem 

the crown of kings? I long to know their fate. 80 

Does Heaven soothe or Hell envenom them?" 

And he: "They lie below in a blacker lair. 
A heavier guilt draws them to greater pain. 
If you descend so far you may see them there. 

But when you move again among the living, 85 

oh speak my name to the memory of men ! 
Having answered all, I say no more." And giving 

his head a shake, he looked up at my face 

cross-eyed, then bowed his head and fell away 

among the other blind souls of that place. 90 

And my Guide to me: "He will not wake again 
until the angel trumpet sounds the day 
on which the host shall come to judge all men. 

48 The Inferno 

Then shall each soul before the seat of Mercy 

return to its sad grave and flesh and form 95 

to hear the edict of Eternity." 

So we picked our slow way among the shades 
and the filthy rain, speaking of life to come. 
"Master," I said, "when the great clarion fades 

into the voice of thundering Omniscience, 1 00 

what of these agonies? Will they be the same, 
or more, or less, after the final sentence?" 

And he to me: "Look to your science again 
where it is written: the more a thing is perfect 
the more it feels of pleasure and of pain. 1 05 

As for these souls, though they can never soar 
to true perfection, still in the new time 
they will be nearer it than they were before." 

And so we walked the rim of the great ledge 

speaking of pain and joy, and of much more 110 

that I will not repeat, and reached the edge 

where the descent begins. There, suddenly, 
we came on Plutus, the great enemy. 


13. Cerberus: In classical mythology Cerberus appears as a 
three-headed dog. His master was Pluto, king of the Underworld. 
Cerberus was placed at the Gate of the Underworld to allow all to 
enter, but none to escape. His three heads and his ravenous disposi- 
tion make him an apt symbol of gluttony. 

14. like a mad dog: Cerberus is a dog in classical mythology, but 
Dante seems clearly to have visualized him as a half-human mon- 
ster. The beard (line 16) suggests that at least one of his three heads 
is human, and many illuminated manuscripts so represent him. 

Canto VI 49 

38. until one wraith among them: As the Poets pass, one of the 
damned sits up and asks if Dante recognizes him. Dante replies that 
he does not, and the wraith identifies himself as a Florentine nick- 
named Ciacco, i.e., The Hog. 

Little is known about Ciacco (TCHA-koe). Boccaccio refers to a 
Florentine named Ciacco (Decameron, IX, 8), and several conflict- 
ing accounts of him have been offered by various commentators. All 
that need be known about him, however, is the nature of his sin and 
the fact that he is a Florentine. Whatever else he may have been does 
not function in the poem. 

42. You had been made before I was unmade: That is, "you were 
born before I died." The further implication is that they must have 
seen one another in Florence, a city one can still walk across in 
twenty minutes, and around in a very few hours. Dante certainly 
would have known everyone in Florence. 

61. CIACCO'S PROPHECY. This is the first of the political 
prophecies that are to become a recurring theme of the Inferno. (It is 
the second if we include the political symbolism of the Greyhound in 
Canto I.) Dante is, of course, writing after these events have all taken 
place. At Easter time of 1300, however, the events were in the future. 

The Whites and the Blacks of Ciacco' s prophecy should not be 
confused with the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. The internal strife 
between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines ended with the total defeat 
of the Ghibellines. By the end of the thirteenth century that strife had 
passed. But very shortly a new feud began in Florence between White 
Guelphs and Black Guelphs. A rather gruesome murder perpetrated 
by Focaccio de' Cancellieri (Foe-KAH-tchoe day Khan-tchell- 
YAIR-ee) became the cause of new strife between two branches of the 
Cancellieri family. On May 1 of 1300 the White Guelphs (Dante's 
party) drove the Black Guelphs from Florence in bloody fighting. 
Two years later, however ("within three suns"), the Blacks, aided by 
Dante's detested Boniface VIII, returned and expelled most of the 
prominent Whites, among them Dante; for he had been a member of 
the Priorate (City Council) that issued a decree banishing the lead- 
ers of both sides. This was the beginning of Dante's long exile from 

70. two are honest: In the nature of prophecies this remains 
vague. The two are not identified. 

50 The Inferno 

76-77. FARINATA will appear in Canto X among the Heretics: 
homosexuals, MOSCA in Canto XXVIII with the sowers of dis- 
cord. ARRIGO does not appear again and he has not been positively 
identified. Dante probably refers here to Arrigo (or Oderigo) dei Fi- 
fanti, one of those who took part in the murder of Buondelmonte 
(Canto XXVIII, line 106, note). 

86. speak my name: Excepting those shades in the lowest depths 
of Hell whose sins are so shameful that they wish only to be forgot- 
ten, all of the damned are eager to be remembered on earth. The con- 
cept of the family name and of its survival in the memories of men 
were matters of first importance among Italians of Dante's time, 
and expressions of essentially the same attitude are common in Italy 

103. your science: "Science" to the man of Dante's time meant 
specifically "the writings of Aristotle and the commentaries upon 

Canto VII 


circle four The Hoarders and the Wasters 

circle five The Wrathful and the Sullen 

PLUTUS menaces the Poets, but once more Virgil shows him- 
self more powerful than the rages of Hell s monsters. The Poets 
enter the FOURTH CIRCLE and find what seems to be a war 
in progress. 

The sinners are divided into two raging mobs, each soul 
among them straining madly at a great boulder-Uke weight. 
The two mobs meet, clashing their weights against one an- 
other, after which they separate, pushing the great weights 
apart, and begin over again. 

One mob is made up of the HOARDERS, the other of the 
WASTERS. In life, they lacked all moderation in regulating 
their expenses; they destroyed the light of God within them- 
selves by thinking of nothing but money± Thus in death, their 
souls are encumbered by dead weights (mundanity) and one 
excess serves to punish the other. Their souls, moreover, have 
become so dimmed and awry in their fruitless rages that 
there is no hope of recognizing any among them. 

The Poets pass on while Virgil explains the function of 
DAME FORTUNE in the Divine Scheme. As he finishes (it is 
past midnight now of Good Friday) they reach the inner edge 
of the ledge and come to a Black Spring which bubbles murk- 
ily over the rocks to form the MARSH OF STYX, which is the 
FIFTH CIRCLE, the last station of the UPPER HELL. 

Across the marsh they see countless souls attacking one 
another in the foul slime. These are the WRATHFUL and the 
symbolism of their punishment is obvious. Virgil also points 
out to Dante certain bubbles rising from the slime and informs 


52 The Inferno 

him that below that mud lie entombed the souls of the 
SULLEN* In life they refused to welcome the sweet light of 
the SunJ Divine Illumination) and in death they are buried 
forever below the stinking waters of the Stypc, gargling the 
words of an endless chant in a grotesque parody of singing a 

"Papa Satan, Papa Satan, aleppy," 

Plutus clucked and stuttered in his rage; 
and ray all-knowing Guide, to comfort me: 

"Do not be startled, for no power of his, 

however he may lord it over the damned, 5 

may hinder your descent through this abyss." 

And turning to that carnival of bloat 

cried: "Peace, you Wolf of Hell. Choke back your bile 
and let its venom blister your own throat. 

Our passage through this pit is willed on high 10 

by that same Throne that loosed the angel wrath 
of Michael on ambition and mutiny." 

As puffed out sails fall when the mast gives way 
and flutter to a self-convulsing heap — 
so collapsed Plutus into that dead clay. 1 5 

Thus we descended the dark scarp of Hell 
to which all the evil of the Universe 
comes home at last, into the Fourth Great Circle 

and ledge of the abyss. O Holy Justice, 

who could relate the agonies I saw ! 20 

What guilt is man that he can come to this? 

Just as the surge Charybdis hurls to sea 
crashes and breaks upon its countersurge, 
so these shades dance and crash eternally. 

Canto VII 53 

Here, too, I saw a nation of lost souls, 25 

far more than were above: they strained their chests 
against enormous weights, and with mad howls _ 

rolled them at one another. Then in haste 

they rolled them back, one party shouting out: 

"Why do you hoard?" and the other: "Why do you waste?" 30 

So back around that ring they puff and blow, 
each faction to its course, until they reach 
opposite sides, and screaming as they go 

the madmen turn and start their weights again 

to crash against the maniacs. And I, 35 

watching, felt my heart contract with pain. 

"Master," I said, "what people can these be? 
And all those tonsured ones there on our left — 
is it possible they all were of the clergy?" 

And he: "In the first life beneath the sun 40 

they were so skewed and squint-eyed in their minds 
their misering or extravagance mocked all reason. 

The voice of each clamors its own excess 

when lust meets lust at the two points of the circle 

where opposite guilts meet in their wretchedness. 45 

These tonsured wraiths of greed were priests indeed, 
and popes and cardinals, for it is in these 
the weed of avarice sows its rankest seed." 

And I to him: "Master, among this crew 

surely I should be able to make out 50 

the fallen image of some soul I knew." 

And he to me: "This is a lost ambition. 

In their sordid lives they labored to be blind, 

and now their souls have dimmed past recognition. 

54 The Inferno 

All their eternity is to butt and bray: 55 

one crew will stand tight-fisted, the other stripped 
of its very hair at the bar of Judgment Day. 

Hoarding and squandering wasted all their light 

and brought them screaming to this brawl of wraiths. 
You need no words of mine to grasp their plight. 60 

Now may you see the fleeting vanity 

of the goods of Fortune for which men tear down 
all that they are, to build a mockery. 

Not all the gold that is or ever was 

under the sky could buy for one of these 65 

exhausted souls the fraction of a pause." 

"Master," I said, "tell me — now that you touch 
on this Dame Fortune — what is she, that she holds 
the good things of the world within her clutch?" 

And he to me: "O credulous mankind, 70 

is there one error that has wooed and lost you? 
Now listen, and strike error from your mind: 

That king whose perfect wisdom transcends all, 
made the heavens and posted angels on them 
to guide the eternal light that it might fall 75 

from every sphere to every sphere the same. 
He made earth's splendors by a like decree 
and posted as their minister this high Dame, 

thaLady of Permutations. All earth's gear 

she changes from nation to nation, from house to house, 80 
in changeless change through every turning year — - 

No mortal power may stay her spinning wheel. 
The nations rise and fall by her decree. 
None may foresee where she will set her heel: 

Canto VII 55 

she passes, and things pass. Man's mortal reason 85 

cannot encompass her. She rules her sphere 
as the other gods rule theirs. Season by season 

her changes change her changes endlessly, 
and those whose turn has come press on her so, 
she must be swift by hard necessity. 90 

And this is she so railed at and reviled 
that even her debtors in the joys of time 
blaspheme her name. Their oaths are bitter and wild, 

but she in her beatitude does not hear. 

Among the Primal Beings of God's joy 95 

she breathes her blessedness and wheels her sphere. 

But the stars that marked our starting fall away. 
We must go deeper into greater pain, 
for it is not permitted that we stay." 

And crossing over to the chasm's edge 100 

we came to a spring that boiled and overflowed 
through a great crevice worn into the ledge. 

By that foul water, black from its very source, 
we found a nightmare path among the rocks 
and followed the dark stream along its course. 105 

Beyond its rocky race and wild descent 

the river floods and forms a marsh called Styx, 
a dreary swampland, vaporous and malignant. 

And I, intent on all our passage touched, 

made out a swarm of spirits in that bog 1 1 

savage with anger, naked, slime-besmutched. 

They thumped at one another in that slime 

with hands and feet, and they butted, and they bit 
as if each would tear the other limb from limb. 

56 The Inferno 

And my kind Sage: "My son, behold the souls 115 

of those who lived in wrath. And do you see 
the broken surfaces of those water-holes 

on every hand, boiling as if in pain? 

There are souls beneath that water. Fixed in slime 

they speak their piece, end it, and start again: 1 20 

'Sullen were we in the air made sweet by the Sun; 
in the glory of his shining our hearts poured 
a bitter smoke. Sullen were we begun; 

sullen we lie forever in this ditch.' 

This litany they gargle in their throats 1 25 

as if they sang, but lacked the words and pitch." 

Then circling on along that filthy wallow, 
we picked our way between the bank and fen, 
keeping our eyes on those foul souls that swallow 

the slime of Hell. And so at last we came 1 30 

to the foot of a Great Tower that has no name. 


1 . Papa Satan, Papa Satan, aleppy: Virgil, the all-knowing, may 
understand these words, but no one familiar with merely human lan- 
guages has deciphered them. In Canto XXXI the monster Nimrod 
utters a similar meaningless jargon, and Virgil there cites it as evi- 
dence of the dimness of his mind. Gibberish is certainly a character- 
istic appropriate to monsters, and since Dante takes pains to make 
the reference to Satan apparent in the gibberish, it is obviously infer- 
nal and debased, and that is almost certainly all he intended. 

The word "papa" as used here probably means "Pope" rather 
than "father." "II papa santo" is the Pope. "Papa Satan" would be his 
opposite number. In the original the last word is "aleppe." On the as- 
sumption that jargon translates jargon I have twisted it a bit to 
rhyme with "me." 

Canto VII 57 

2. Plutus: In Greek mythology, Plutus was the God of Wealth. 
Many commentators suggest that Dante confused him with Pluto, 
the son of Saturn and God of the Underworld. But in that case, Plu- 
tus would be identical with Lucifer himself and would require a cen- 
tral place in Hell, whereas the classical function of Plutus as God of 
Material Wealth makes him the ideal overseer of the miserly and the 

22. Charybdis: A famous whirlpool in the Straits of Sicily. 

68. Dame Fortune: A central figure in medieval mythology. She 
is almost invariably represented as a female figure holding an ever- 
revolving wheel symbolic of Chance. Dante incorporates her into 
his scheme of the universe, ranking her among the angels, and giv- 
ing her a special office in the service of the Catholic God. This is the 
first of many passages in the Commedia in which Dante sets forth 
the details of the Divine Ordering of the universe. 

84. none may foresee where she will set her heel: A literal transla- 
tion of the original would be "She is hidden like a snake in the 
grass." To avoid the comic overtone of that figure in English, I have 
substituted another figure which I believe expresses Dante's intent 
without destroying his tone. 

87. the other gods: Dante can only mean here "the other angels 
and ministers of God." 

97 . But the stars that marked our starting fall away: It is now past 
midnight of Good Friday. 

101. a spring: All the waters of Hell derive from one source (see 
Canto XIV, lines 82 ff.). This black spring must therefore be the wa- 
ters of Acheron boiling out of some subterranean passage. 


Dante's symbolism here is self-evident, but his reaction to these 
sinners is different from any we have observed thus far. Up to now 
he has either been appalled, or overcome by pity. In his ironic de- 
scription of the Sullen he ridicules the damned for the first time. And 
in the next Canto he is to take pleasure (if only a passing pleasure) in 
increasing the sufferings of Filippo Argenti. 

Dante will again be moved to pity as he descends the slopes of 

58 The Inferno 

Hell. In fact, Virgil will find it necessary to scold him for pitying 
those whom God in His infinite wisdom has damned. Gradually, 
however, Dante's heart hardens against the damned as he descends 
lower and lower into Hell, and this development should be followed 
through the Inferno along with many other themes Dante carries and 
builds upon. There is no way of grasping the genius of Dante's ar- 
chitectonic power without noting his careful development of such 
themes. Even beyond the brilliance of his details, Dante's power is 
structural: everything relates to everything else. 

107. Styx: The river Styx figures variously in classic mythology, 
but usually (and in later myths always) as a river of the Underworld. 
Dante, to heighten his symbolism, makes it a filthy marsh. 

This marsh marks the first great division of Hell. Between 
Acheron and Styx are punished the sins of Incontinence (the Sins of 
the She-Wolf). This is the Upper Hell. Beyond Styx rise the flaming 
walls of the infernal city of Dis, within which are punished Violence 
and Fraud (the Sins of the Lion, and the Sins of the Leopard). It is 
symbolically fitting that the approaches to the city of Hell should be 
across the filthiest of marshes. 

13 1 . a Great Tower: No special significance need be attributed to 
the Tower. It serves as a signaling point for calling the ferryman 
from Dis. 

Canto VIII 

circle five: styx The Wrathful, Phlegyas 

circle six: dis The Fallen Angels 

The Poets stand at the edge of the swamp, and a mysterious 
signal flames from the great tower. It is answered from the 
darkness of the other side, and almost immediately the Poets 
see PHLEGYAS, the Boatman of Styx, racing toward them 
across the water, fast as a flying arrow. He comes avidly, 
thinking to find new souls for torment, and he howls with 
rage when he discovers the Poets. Once again, however, Vir- 
gil conquers wrath with a word and Phlegyas reluctantly 
gives them passage. 

As they are crossing, a muddy soul rises before them. It is 
FILIPPO ARGENTI, one of the Wrathful. Dante recognizes 
him despite the filth with which he is covered, and he berates 
him soundly, even wishing to see him tormented further. Vir- 
gil approves Dante's disdain and, as if in answer to Dante s 
wrath, Argenti is suddenly set upon by all the other sinners 
present, who fall upon him and rip him to pieces. 

The boat meanwhile has sped on, and before Argenti s 
screams have died away, Dante sees the flaming red towers of 
Dis, the Capital of Hell. The great walls of the irqncity block 
the way to the Lower Hell. Properly speaking, all the rest of 
Hell lies within the city walls, which separate the Upper and 
the Lower Hell. 

Phlegyas deposits them at a great Iron Gate which they 
find to be guarded by the REBELLIOUS ANGELS. These 
creatures of Ultimate Evil, rebels against God Himself, 
refuse to let the Poets pass. Even Virgil is powerless against 
them, for Human Reas on by itself cannot cope with the 


60 The Inferno 

esse nce of Evil. Only Divine Aid can bring hope. Virgil ac- 
cordingly sends up a prayer for assistance and waits anx- 
iously for a Heavenly Messenger to appear. 

Returning to my theme, I say we came 

to the foot of a Great Tower; but long before 

we reached it through the marsh, two horns of flame 

flared from the summit, one from either side, 

and then, far off, so far we scarce could see it 5 

across the mist, another flame replied. 

I turned to that sea of all intelligence 

saying: "What is this signal and counter-signal? 
Who is it speaks with fire across this distance?" 

And he then: "Look across the filthy slew: 10 

you may already see the one they summon, 
if the swamp vapors do not hide him from you." 

No twanging bowspring ever shot an arrow 
that bored the air it rode dead to the mark 
more swiftly than the flying skiff whose prow 15 

shot toward us over the polluted channel 

with a single steersman at the helm who called: 
"So, do I have you at last, you whelp of Hell?" 

"Phlegyas, Phlegyas," said my Lord and Guide, 

"this time you waste your breath: you have us only 20 
for the time it takes to cross to the other side." 

Phlegyas, the madman, blew his rage among 
those muddy marshes like a cheat deceived, 
or like a fool at some imagined wrong. 

My Guide, whom all the fiend's noise could not nettle, 25 
boarded the skiff, motioning me to follow: 
and not till I stepped aboard did it seem to settle 

Canto VI 11 6/ 

into the water. At once we left the shore, 
that ancient hull riding more heavily 
than it had ridden in all of time before. 30 

And as we ran on that dead swamp, the slime 
rose before me, and from it a voice cried: 
"Who are you that come here before your time?" 

And I replied: "If I come, I do not remain. 

But you, who are you, so fallen and so foul?" 35 

And he: "I am one who weeps." And I then: 

"May you weep and wail to all eternity, 
for I know you, hell-dog, filthy as you are." 
Then he stretched both hands to the boat, but warily 

the Master shoved him back, crying, "Down ! Down ! 40 

with the other dogs!" Then he embraced me saying: 
"Indignant spirit, I kiss you as you frown. 

Blessed be she who bore you. In world and time 
this one was haughtier yet. Not one unbending 
graces his memory. Here is his shadow in slime. 45 

How many living now, chancellors of wrath, 
shall come to lie here yet in this pigmire, 
leaving a curse to be their aftermath!" 

And I: "Master, it would suit my whim 
to see the wretch scrubbed down into the swill 50 

before we leave this stinking sink and him." 

And he to me: "Before the other side 

shows through the mist, you shall have all you ask. 
This is a wish that should be gratified." 

And shortly after, I saw the loathsome spirit 55 

so mangled by a swarm of muddy wraiths 
that to this day I praise and thank God for it. 

62 The Inferno 

"After Filippo Argenti !" all cried together. 
The maddog Florentine wheeled at their cry 
and bit himself for rage. I saw them gather. 60 

And there we left him. And I say no more. 
But such a wailing beat upon my ears, 
I strained my eyes ahead to the far shore. 

"My son," the Master said, "the City called Dis 

lies just ahead, the heavy citizens, 65 

the swarming crowds of Hell's metropolis." 

And I then: "Master, I already see 

the glow of its red mosques, as if they came 
hot from the forge to smolder in this valley." 

And my all-knowing Guide: "They are eternal 70 

flues to eternal fire that rages in them 
and makes them glow across this lower Hell." 

And as he spoke we entered the vast moat 
of the sepulchre. Its wall seemed made of iron 
and towered above us in our little boat. 75 

We circled through what seemed an endless distance 
before the boatman ran his prow ashore 
crying: "Out! Out! Get out! This is the entrance." 

Above the gates more than a thousand shades 

of spirits purged from Heaven for its glory 80 

cried angrily: "Who is it that invades 

Death's Kingdom in his life?" My Lord and Guide 
advanced a step before me with a sign 
that he wished to speak to some of them aside. 

They quieted somewhat, and one called, "Come, 85 

but come alone. And tell that other one, 
who thought to walk so blithely through death's kingdom, 

Canto VUI 63 

he may go back along the same fool's way 
he came by. Let him try his living luck. 
You who are dead can come only to stay." 90 

Reader, judge for yourself, how each black word 
fell on my ears to sink into my heart: 
I lost hope of returning to the world. 

"O my beloved Master, my Guide in peril, 

who time and time again have seen me safely 95 

along this way, and turned the power of evil, 

stand by me now," I cried, "in my heart's fright. 
And if the dead forbid our journey to them, 
let us go back together toward the light." 

My Guide then, in the greatness of his spirit: 100 

"Take heart. Nothing can take our passage from us 
when such a power has given warrant for it. 

Wait here and feed your soul while I am gone 
on comfort and good hope; I will not leave you 
to wander in this underworld alone." 1 05 

So the sweet Guide and Father leaves me here, 
and I stay on in doubt with yes and no 
dividing all my heart to hope and fear. 

I could not hear my Lord's words, but the pack 

that gathered round him suddenly broke away 1 1 

howling and jostling and went pouring back, 

slamming the towering gate hard in his face. 
That great Soul stood alone outside the wall. 
Then he came back; his pain showed in his pace. 

His eyes were fixed upon the ground, his brow 1 15 

had sagged from its assurance. He sighed aloud: 
"Who has forbidden me the halls of sorrow?" 

64 The Inferno 

And to me he said: "You need not be cast down 
by my vexation, for whatever plot 
these fiends may lay against us, we will go on. 120 

This insolence of theirs is nothing new: 
they showed it once at a less secret gate 
that still stands open for all that they could do — 

the same gate where you read the dead inscription; 

and through it at this moment a Great One comes. 1 25 
Already he has passed it and moves down 

ledge by dark ledge. He is one who needs no guide, 
and at his touch all gates must spring aside." 


1 . Returning to my theme: There is evidence that Dante stopped 
writing for a longer or shorter period between the seventh and 
eighth Cantos. None of the evidence is conclusive but it is quite 
clear that the plan of the Inferno changes from here on. Up to this 
point the Circles have been described in one canto apiece. If this 
was Dante's original plan, Hell would have been concluded in five 
more Cantos, since there are only Nine Circles in all. But in the later 
journey the Eighth Circle alone occupies thirteen Cantos. Dante's 
phrase may be simply transitional, but it certainly marks a change in 
the plan of the poem. 

19. Phlegyas: Mythological King of Boeotia. He was the son of 
Ares (Mars) by a human mother. Angry at Apollo, who had seduced 
his daughter (Aesculapius was born of this union), he set fire to 
Apollo's temple at Delphi. For this offense, the god killed him and 
threw his soul into Hades under sentence of eternal torment. Dante's 
choice of a ferryman is especially apt. Phlegyas is the link between 
the Wrathful (to whom his paternity relates him) and the Rebellious 
Angels who menaced God (as he menaced Apollo). 

27. and not till I stepped aboard did it seem to settle: Because of 
his living weight. 

Canto V//I 65 

43. Blessed be she who bore you: These were Luke's words to 
Christ. To have Virgil apply them to Dante after such violence 
seems shocking, even though the expression is reasonably common 
in Italian. But Dante does not use such devices lightly. The Comme- 
dia, it must be remembered, is a vision of the progress of man \ soul 
toward perfection. In being contemptuous of Wrath, Dante is purg- 
ing it from his soul. He is thereby growing nearer to perfection, and 
Virgil, who has said nothing in the past when Dante showed pity for 
other sinners (though Virgil will later take him to task for daring to 
pity those whom God has shut off from pity), welcomes this sign of 
relentless rejection. Only by a ruthless enmity toward evil may the 
soul be purified, and as Christ is the symbol of ultimate perfection 
by rejection of Evil, so the birth of that rejection in Dante may aptly 
be greeted by the words of Luke, for it is from this that the soul must 
be reborn. Righteous indignation, moreover (giusto sdegno), is one 
of the virtues Christ practiced (e.g., against the money changers) 
and is the golden mean of right action between the evil extremes of 
wrath and sullenness. 

57. Filippo Argenti (Ahr-DJEN-tee): One of the Adimari family, 
who were bitter political enemies of Dante. Dante's savagery 
toward him was probably intended in part as an insult to the family. 
He pays them off again in the Paradiso when he has Cacciaguida 
(Kah-tchah-GWEE-da) call them "The insolent gang that makes it- 
self a dragon to chase those who run away, but is sweet as a lamb to 
any who show their teeth — or their purse. " 

64. Dis: Pluto, King of the Underworld of ancient mythology, 
was sometimes called Dis. This, then, is his city, the metropolis of 
Satan. Within the city walls lies all the Lower Hell; within it fire is 
used for the first time as a torment of the damned; and at its very 
center Satan himself stands fixed forever in a great ice cap. 

68. mosques: To a European of Dante's time a mosque would 
seem the perversion of a church, the impious counterpart of the 
House of God, just as Satan is God's impious counterpart. His city is 
therefore architecturally appropriate, a symbolism that becomes all 
the more terrible when the mosques are made of red-hot iron. 

70-71 . they are eternal flues to eternal fire: The fires of Hell are 
all within Dis. 

66 The Inferno 

80. spirits purged from Heaven for its glory: The Rebellious An- 
gels. We have already seen, on the other side of Acheron, the Angels 
who sinned by refusing to take sides. 

95. time and time again: A literal translation of the original 
would read "more than seven times." "Seven" is used here as an in- 
determinate number indicating simply "quite a number of times." 
Italian makes rather free use of such numbers. 

106. leaves me: Dante shifts tenses more freely than English 
readers are accustomed to. 

113. That great Soul stood alone: Virgil's allegorical function as 
Human Reason is especially important to an interpretation of this 

122. a less secret gate: The Gate of Hell. According to an early 
medieval tradition, these demons gathered at the outer gate to op- 
pose the descent of Christ into Limbo at the time of the Harrowing 
of Hell, but Christ broke the door open and it has remained so ever 
since. The service of the Mass for Holy Saturday still sings Hodie 
portas mortis et seras pariter Salvator noster disrupit. (On this day 
our Saviour broke open the door of the dead and its lock as well.) 

1 25. a Great One: A Messenger of Heaven. He is described in the 
next Canto. 

Canto IX 

circle six The Heretics 

At the Gate ofDis the Poets wait in dread. Virgil tries to hide 
his anxiety from Dante, but both realize that without Divine 
Aid they will surely be lost. To add to their terrors THREE 
INFERNAL FURIES, symbols of Eternal Remorse, appear 
on a nearby tower, from which they threaten the Poets and 
call for MEDUSA to come and change them to stone. Virgil at 
once commands Dante to turn and shut his eyes. To make 
doubly sure, Virgil himself places his hands over Dante's 
eyes, for there is an Evil upon which man must not look if he 
is to be saved. 

But at the moment of greatest anxiety a storm shakes the 
dirty air of Hell and the sinners in the marsh begin to scatter 
like frightened frogs. THE HEAVENLY MESSENGER is ap- 
proaching. He appears walking majestically through Hell, 
looking neither to right nor to left. With a touch he throws 
open the Gate ofDis while his words scatter the Rebellious 
Angels. Then he returns as he came. 

The Poets now enter the gate unopposed and find them- 
selves in the Sixth Circle. Here they find a countryside like a 
vast cemetery. Tombs of every size stretch out before them, 
each with its lid lying beside it, and each wrapped inflames. 
Cries of anguish sound endlessly from the entombed dead. 

This is the torment of the HERETICS of every cult. By 
Heretic, Dante means specifically those who did violence to 
God by denying immortality. Since they taught that the soul 
dies with the body, so their punishment is an eternal grave in 
the fiery morgue of God's wrath. 


68 The Inferno 

My face had paled to a mask of cowardice 

when I saw my Guide turn back. The sight of it 
the sooner brought the color back to his. 

He stood apart like one who strains to hear 

what he cannot see, for the eye could not reach far 5 

across the vapors of that midnight air. 

"Yet surely we were meant to pass these tombs," 
he said aloud. "If not ... so much was promised . . . 
Oh how time hangs and drags till our aid comes!" 

I saw too well how the words with which he ended 10 

covered his start, and even perhaps I drew 
a worse conclusion from that than he intended. 

,)"Tell me, Master, does anyone ever come 

j from the first ledge, whose only punishment 

(^ is hope cut off, into this dreary bottom?" 15 

I put this question to him, still in fear 

of what his broken speech might mean; and he: 
" Rarely do any of us ente r her^ \ 

Once before, it is tme, I crossed through Hell 

conjured by cruel Erichtho who recalled 20 

the spirits to their bodies. Her dark spell 

forced me, newly stripped of my mortal part, 
to enter through this gate and summon out 
a spirit from Judai'ca. Take heart, 

that is the last depth and the darkest lair 25 

and the farthest from Heaven which encircles all, 
and at that time I came back even from there. 

The marsh from which the stinking gases bubble 
lies all about this capital of sorrow 
whose gates we may not pass now without trouble." 30 

Canto IX 69 

All this and more he expounded; but the rest 
was lost on me, for suddenly my attention 
was drawn to the turret with the fiery crest 

where all at once three hellish and inhuman 

Furies sprang to view, bloodstained and wild. 35 

Their limbs and gestures hinted they were women. 

Belts of greenest hydras wound and wound 

about their waists, and snakes and horned serpents 
grew from their heads like matted hair and bound 

their horrid brows. My Master, who well knew 40 

the handmaids of the Queen of Woe, cried: "Look: 
the terrible Erinyes of Hecate's crew. 

That is Megaera to the left of the tower. 
Alecto is the one who raves on the right. 
Tisiphone stands between." And he said no more. 45 

With their palms they beat their brows, with their nails they clawed 
their bleeding breasts. And such mad wails broke from them 
that I drew close to the Poet, overawed. 

And all together screamed, looking down at me: 

"Call Medusa that we may change him to stone! 50 

Too lightly we let Theseus go free." 

"Turn your back and keep your eyes shut tight; 
for should the Gorgon come and you look at her, 
never again would you return to the light." 

This was my Guide's command. And he turned me about 55 
himself, and would not trust my hands alone, 
but, with his placed on mine, held my eyes shut. 

Men of sound intellect and probity, 

weigh with good understanding what lies hidden 

behind the veil of my strange allegory ! 60 

70 The Inferno 

Suddenly there broke on the dirty swell 
of the dark marsh a squall of terrible sound 
that sent a tremor through both shores of Hell; 

a sound as if two continents of air, 

one frigid and one scorching, clashed head on 65 

in a war of winds that stripped the forests bare, 

ripped off whole boughs and blew them helter-skelter 
along the range of dust it raised before it 
making the beasts and shepherds run for shelter. 

The Master freed my eyes. "Now turn," he said, 70 

"and fix your nerve of vision on the foam 
there where the smoke is thickest and most acrid." 

As frogs before the snake that hunts them down 
churn up their pond in flight, until the last 
squats on the bottom as if turned to stone — 75 

so I saw more than a thousand ruined souls 
scatter away from one who crossed dry-shod 
the Stygian marsh into Hell's burning bowels. 

With his left hand he fanned away the dreary 

vapors of that sink as he approached; 80 

and only of that annoyance did he seem weary. 

Clearly he was a Messenger from God's Throne, 
and I turned to my Guide; but he made me a sign 
that I should keep my silence and bow down. 

Ah, what scorn breathed from that Angel-presence ! 85 

He reached the gate of Dis and with a wand 
he waved it open, for there was no resistance. 

"Outcasts of Heaven, you twice-loathsome crew," 
he cried upon that terrible sill of Hell, 
"how does this insolence still live in you? 90 

Canto IX 71 

Why do you set yourselves against that Throne 
whose Will none can deny, and which, times past, 
has added to your pain for each rebellion? 

Why do you butt against Fate's ordinance? 

Your Cerberus, if you recall, still wears 95 

his throat and chin peeled for such arrogance." 

Then he turned back through the same filthy tide 
by which he had come. He did not speak to us, 
but went his way like one preoccupied 

by other presences than those before him. 1 00 

And we moved toward the city, fearing nothing 
after his holy words. Straight through the dim 

and open gate we entered unopposed. 
And I, eager to learn what new estate 
of Hell those burning fortress walls enclosed, 1 05 

began to look about the very moment 
we were inside, and I saw on every hand 
a countryside of sorrow and new torment. 

As at Aries where the Rhone sinks into stagnant marshes, 
as at Pola by the Quarnaro Gulf, whose waters 110 

close Italy and wash her farthest reaches, 

the uneven tombs cover the even plain — 

such fields I saw here, spread in all directions, 
except that here the tombs were chests of pain: 

for, in a ring around each tomb, great fires 115 

raised every wall to a red heat. No smith 
works hotter iron in his forge. The biers 

stood with their lids upraised, and from their pits 
an anguished moaning rose on the dead air 
from the desolation of tormented spirits. 1 20 

72 The Inferno 

And I: "Master, what shades are these who lie 
buried in these chests and fill the air 
with such a painful and unending cry?" 

"These are the arch-heretics of all cults, 

with all their followers," he replied. "Far more 1 25 

than you would think lie stuffed into these vaults. 

Like lies with like in every heresy, 

and the monuments are fired, some more, some less; 
to each depravity its own degree." 

He turned then, and I followed through that night 1 30 

between the wall and the torments, bearing right. 


gorically, this highly dramatic scene once more represents the limits 
of the power of Human Reason. There are occasions, Dante makes 
clear, in which only Divine Aid will suffice. The anxiety here is the 
turmoil of the mind that hungers after God and awaits His sign in 
fear and doubt, knowing that unless that sign is given, the final evil 
cannot be surmounted. 

Aside from the allegorical significance, the scene is both power- 
fully and subtly drawn. Observing Dante's fear, Virgil hides his 
own. Dante, however, penetrates the dissimulation, and is all the 
more afraid. To reassure himself (or to know the worst, perhaps) he 
longs to ask Virgil whether or not he really knows the way. But 
he cannot ask bluntly; he has too much respect for his Guide's feel- 
ings. Therefore, he generalizes the question in such a way as to 
make it inoffensive. 

Having drawn so delicate a play of cross-motives in such brief 
space, Dante further seizes the scene as an opportunity for reinforc- 
ing Virgil's fitness to be his Guide. The economy of means with 
which Dante brings his several themes to assist one another is in the 
high tradition of dramatic poetry. 

\4.from the first ledge: Limbo. 

Canto IX 73 

20. Erichtho: A sorceress drawn from Lucan (Pharsalia, VI, 508 IT. ). 

24. a spirit from Judaica . . . : Judaica (or Judecca) is the final pit 
of Hell. Erichtho called up the spirit in order to foretell the outcome 
of the campaign between Pompey and Caesar. There is no trace of 
the legend in which Virgil is chosen for the descent; Virgil, in fact, 
was still alive at the time of the battle of Pharsalia. 

34 ff. THE THREE FURIES (or Erinyes). In classical mythology 
they were especially malignant spirits who pursued and tormented 
those who had violated fundamental taboos (desecration of temples, 
murder of kin, etc.). They are apt symbols of the guilty conscience 
of the damned. 

41. the Queen of Woe: Proserpine (or Hecate) was the wife of 
Pluto, and therefore Queen of the Underworld. 

50. Medusa: The Gorgon. She turned to stone whoever looked at 
her. Allegorically she may be said to represent Despair of ever win- 
ning the Mercy of God. The further allegory is apparent when we 
remember that she is summoned by the Furies, who represent 

5 1 . too lightly we let Theseus go free: Theseus and Pirithous tried 
to kidnap Hecate. Pirithous was killed in the attempt and Theseus 
was punished by being chained to a great rock. He was later set free 
by Hercules, who descended to his rescue in defiance of all the pow- 
ers of Hell. The meaning of the Furies' cry is that Dante must be 
made an example of. Had they punished Theseus properly, men 
would have acquired more respect for their powers and would not 
still be attempting to invade the Underworld. 

59-60. my strange allegory: Most commentators take this to 
mean the allegory of the Three Furies, but the lines apply as aptly to 
the allegory that follows. Dante probably meant both. Almost cer- 
tainly, too, "my strange allegory" refers to the whole Commedia. 

God is expressed only as inviolable power. His messenger is pre- 
ceded by great storms, his presence sends a terror through the 
damned, his face is the face of scorn. 

95. Cerberus: When Cerberus opposed the fated entrance of Her- 
cules into Hell, Hercules threw a chain about his neck and dragged 

74 The Inferno 

him to the upperworld. Cerberus' throat, according to Dante, is still 
peeled raw from it. 

104. THE SIXTH CIRCLE. Once through the gate, the Poets en- 
ter the Sixth Circle and the beginning of the Lower Hell. 

109 ff. Aries . . . Pola: Situated as indicated on the Rhone and the 
Quarnaro Gulf respectively, these cities were the sites of great 
cemeteries dating back to the time of Rome. The Quarnaro Gulf is 
the body of water on which Fiume is situated. 

114. THE HERETICS. Within the Sixth Circle are punished the 
Heretics. They lie in chests resembling great tombs, but the tombs 
are made of iron and are heated red-hot by great fires. The tombs 
are uncovered, and the great lids lie about on the ground. As we 
shall learn soon, these lids will be put into place on the Day of Judg- 
ment and sealed forever. Thus, once more the sin is refigured in the 
punishment, for as Heresy results in the death of the soul, so the 
Heretics will be sealed forever in their death within a death. 

It must be noted, however, that Dante means by "heretic" specifi- 
cally those skeptics who deny the soul's immortality. They stand in 
relation to the Lower Hell as the Pagans stood in relation to the 
Upper Hell. The Pagans did not know how to worship God: the 
Heretics denied His existence. Each group, in its degree, symbolizes 
a state of blindness. (Other varieties of Heretics are in Bolgia 9 of 
Circle VIII.) Moreover, in Dante's system, to deny God is the begin- 
ning of Violence, Bestiality, and Fraud; and it is these sins which are 
punished below. 

131. bearing right: Through all of Hell the Poets bear left in their 
descent with only two exceptions, the first in their approach to the 
Heretics, the second in their approach to Geryon, the monster of 
fraud (see note XVII, 29 below). Note that both these exceptions oc- 
cur at a major division of the Inferno. There is no satisfactory expla- 
nation of Dante's allegorical intent in making these exceptions. 

Canto X 

circle six The Heretics 

( As 


the Poets pass on, one of the damned hears Dante speak- 
ing, recognizes him as a Tuscan, and calls to him from one of 
\ the fiery tombs. A moment later he appears. He isJARINATA 
^ DEGLI UBERT I, a great war-chief of the Tuscan Ghibellines. 
The majesty and power of his bearing seem to diminish Hell 
itself He asks Dante's lineage and recognizes him as an en- 
emy. They begin to talk politics, but are interrupted by an- 
other shade, who rises from the same tomb. 

This one is CAVALCANTE DEI CAVALCANTl father of 
Guido Cavalcanti, a contemporary poet. If it is genius that 
leads Dante on his great journey, the shade asks, why is Guido 
not with him? Can Dante presume to a greater genius than 
Guido s? Dante replies that he comes this way only with the aid 
of powers Guido has not sought. His reply is a classic example 
of many-leveled symbolism as well as an overt criticism of a ri- 
val poet. The senior Cavalcanti mistakenly infers from Dante s 
reply that Guido is dead, and swoons back into the flames. 

Farinata, who has not deigned to notice his fellow- sinner, 
continues from the exact point at which he had been inter- 
rupted. It is as if he refuses to recognize the flames in which 
he is shrouded. He proceeds to prophesy Dante 's banishment 
from Florence, he defends his part in Florentine politics, and 
then, in answer to Dante 's question, he explains how it is that 
the damned can foresee the future but have no knowledge of 
the present. He then names others who share his tomb, and 
Dante takes his leave with considerable respect for his great 
enemy, pausing only long enough to leave word for Caval- 
canti that Guido is still alive. 


76 The Inferno 

We go by a secret path along the rim 

of the dark city, between the wall and the torments. 
My Master leads me and I follow him. 

"Supreme Virtue, who through this impious land 

wheel me at will down these dark gyres," I said, 5 

"speak to me, for I wish to understand. 

Tell me, Master, is it permitted to see 

the souls within these tombs? The lids are raised, 
and no one stands on guard." And he to me: 

"All shall be sealed forever on the day 1 

these souls return here from Jehosaphat 
with the bodies they have given once to clay. 

In this dark corner of the morgue of wrath 
lie Epicurus and his followers, 
who make the soul share in the body's death. 15 

And here you shall be granted presently 

not only your spoken wish, but that other as well, 
which you had thought perhaps to hide from me." 

And I: "Except to speak my thoughts in few 

and modest words, as I learned from your example, 20 
dear Guide, I do not hide my heart from you." 

"O Tuscan, who go living through this place 
speaking so decorously, may it please you pause 
a moment on your way, for by the grace 

of that high speech in which I hear your birth, 25 

I know you for a son of that noble city 
which perhaps I vexed too much in my time on earth." 

These words broke without warning from inside 
one of the burning arks. Caught by surprise, 
I turned in fear and drew close to my Guide. 30 

Canto X 77 

And he: "Turn around. What are you doing? Look there: 
it is Farinata rising from the flames. 
From the waist up his shade will be made clear." 

My eyes were fixed on him already. Erect, 

he rose above the flame, great chest, great brow; 35 

he seemed to hold all Hell in disrespect. 

My Guide's prompt hands urged me among the dim 
and smoking sepulchres to that great figure, 
and he said to me: "Mind how you speak to him." 

And when I stood alone at the foot of the tomb, 40 

the great soul stared almost contemptuously, 
before he asked: "Of what line do you come?" 

Because I wished to obey, I did not hide 

anything from him: whereupon, as he listened, 

he raised his brows a little, then replied: 45 

"Bitter enemies were they to me, 

to my fathers, and to my party, so that twice 
I sent them scattering from high Italy." 

"If they were scattered, still from every part 
they formed again and returned both times," I answered, 50 
"but yours have not yet wholly learned that art." 

At this another shade rose gradually, 
visible to the chin. It had raised itself, 
I think, upon its knees, and it looked around me 

as if it expected to find through that black air 55 

that blew about me, another traveler. 
And weeping when it found no other there, 

turned back. "And if," it cried, "you travel through 
this dungeon of the blind by power of genius, 
where is my son? why is he not with you?" 60 

78 The Inferno 

And I to him: "Not by myself am I borne 

this terrible way. I am led by him who waits there, 
and whom perhaps your Guido held in scorn." 

For by his words and the manner of his torment 

I knew his name already, and could, therefore, 65 

answer both what he asked and what he meant. 

Instantly he rose to his full height: 

"He held? What is it you say? Is he dead, then? 
Do his eyes no longer fill with that sweet light?" 

And when he saw that I delayed a bit 70 

in answering his question, he fell backwards 
into the flame, and rose no more from it. 

But that majestic spirit at whose call 

I had first paused there, did not change expression, 

nor so much as turn his face to watch him fall. 75 

"And if," going on from his last words, he said, 
"men of my line have yet to learn that art, 
that burns me deeper than this flaming bed. 

But the face of her who reigns in Hell shall not 

be fifty times rekindled in its course 80 

before you learn what griefs attend that art. 

And as you hope to find the world again, 
tell me: why is that populace so savage 
in the edicts they pronounce against my strain?" 

And I to him: "The havoc and the carnage 85 

that dyed the Arbia red at Montaperti 
have caused these angry cries in our assemblage." 

He sighed and shook his head. "I was not alone 
in that affair," he said, "nor certainly 
would I have joined the rest without good reason. 90 

Canto X 79 

But I was alone at that time when every other 
consented to the death of Florence; I 
alone with open face defended her." 

"Ah, so may your soul sometime have rest," 

I begged him, "solve the riddle that pursues me 95 

through this dark place and leaves my mind perplexed: 

you seem to see in advance all time's intent, 
if I have heard and understood correctly; 
but you seem to lack all knowledge of the present." 

"We see asquint, like those whose twisted sight 100 

can make out only the far-off," he said, 
"for the King of All still grants us that much light. 

When things draw near, or happen, we perceive 
nothing of them. Except what others bring us 
we have no news of those who are alive. 105 

So may you understand that all we know 
will be dead forever from that day and hour 
when the Portal of the Future is swung to." 

Then, as if stricken by regret, I said: 

"Now, therefore, will you tell that fallen one 1 10 

who asked about his son, that he is not dead, 

and that, if I did not reply more quickly, 
it was because my mind was occupied 
with this confusion you have solved for me." 

And now my Guide was calling me. In haste, 1 1 5 

therefore, I begged that mighty shade to name 
the others who lay with him in that chest. 

And he: "More than a thousand cram this tomb. 
The second Frederick is here, and the Cardinal 
of the Ubaldini. Of the rest let us be dumb." 120 

80 The Inferno 

And he disappeared without more said, and I 

turned back and made my way to the ancient Poet, 
pondering the words of the dark prophecy. 

He moved along, and then, when we had started, 

he turned and said to me, "What troubles you? 1 25 

Why do you look so vacant and downhearted?" 

And I told him. And he replied: "Well may you bear 
those words in mind." Then, pausing, raised a finger: 
"Now pay attention to what I tell you here: 

when finally you stand before the ray 1 30 

of that Sweet Lady whose bright eye sees all, 
from her you will learn the turnings of your way." 

So saying, he bore left, turning his back 
on the flaming walls, and we passed deeper yet 
into the city of pain, along a track 1 35 

that plunged down like a scar into a sink 
which sickened us already with its stink. 


1 1 . Jehosaphat: A valley outside Jerusalem. The popular belief 
that it would serve as the scene of the Last Judgment was based on 
Joel, iii, 2, 12. 

14. Epicurus: The Greek philosopher. The central aim of his phi- 
losophy was to achieve happiness, which he defined as the absence 
of pain. For Dante this doctrine meant the denial of the Eternal life, 
since the whole aim of the Epicurean was temporal happiness. 

17. not only your spoken wish, but that other as well: "All know- 
ing" Virgil is frequently presented as being able to read Dante's 
mind. The "other wish" is almost certainly Dante's desire to speak 
to someone from Florence with whom he could discuss politics. 
Many prominent Florentines were Epicureans. 

Canto X 81 

22. Tuscan: Florence lies in the province of Tuscany. Italian, to 
an extent unknown in America, is a language of dialects, all of them 
readily identifiable even when they are not well understood by the 
hearer. Dante's native Tuscan has become the main source of mod- 
ern official Italian. Two very common sayings still current in Italy 
are: "Lingua toscana, lingua di Dio " (the Tuscan tongue is the lan- 
guage of God) and — to express the perfection of Italian speech — 
"Lingua toscana in bocca romana " (the Tuscan tongue in a Roman 

26. that noble city: Florence. 

32-51. Farinata: Farinata degli Uberti (DEH-lyee Oob-EHR- 
tee) was head of the ancient noble house of the Uberti. He became 
leader of the Ghibellines of Florence in 1239, and played a large part 
in expelling the Guelphs in 1 248. The Guelphs returned in 1 25 1 , but 
Farinata remained. His arrogant desire to rule singlehanded led to 
difficulties, however, and he was expelled in 1258. With the aid of 
the Manfredi of Siena, he gathered a large force and defeated the 
Guelphs at Montaperti on the River Arbia in 1260. Reentering Flor- 
ence in triumph, he again expelled the Guelphs, but at the Diet of 
Empoli, held by the victors after the battle of Montaperti, he alone 
rose in open council to resist the general sentiment that Florence 
should be razed. He died in Florence in 1 264. In 1 266 the Guelphs 
once more returned and crushed forever the power of the Uberti, de- 
stroying their palaces and issuing special decrees against persons of 
the Uberti line. In 1283 a decree of heresy was published against 

39. "Mind how you speak to him ": The surface interpretation 
is clearly that Virgil means Dante to show proper respect to so ma- 
jestic a soul. (Cf. Canto XVI, 14-15.) But the allegorical level is 
more interesting here. Virgil (as Human Reason) is urging Dante 
to go forward on his own. These final words then would be an 
admonition to Dante to guide his speech according to the highest 

52. another shade: Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti was a famous 
Epicurean ("like lies with like"). He was the father of Guido Caval- 
canti, a poet and friend of Dante. Guido was also Farinata's son- 

82 The Inferno 

61. Not by myself: Cavalcanti assumes that the resources of hu- 
man genius are all that are necessary for such a journey. (It is an as- 
sumption that well fits his character as an Epicurean.) Dante replies 
as a man of religion that other aid is necessary. 

63. whom perhaps your Guido held in scorn: This reference has 
not been satisfactorily explained. Virgil is a symbol on many levels — 
of Classicism, of religiosity, of Human Reason. Guido might have 
scorned him on any of these levels, or on all of them. One interpreta- 
tion might be that Dante wished to present Guido as an example of 
how skepticism acts as a limitation upon a man of genius. Guido's 
skepticism does not permit him to see beyond the temporal. He does 
not see that Virgil (Human Reason expressed as Poetic Wisdom) ex- 
ists only to lead one to Divine Love, and therefore he cannot under- 
take the final journey on which Dante has embarked. 

70. and when he saw that I delayed: Dante's delay is explained in 
lines 112-114. 

79. her who reigns in Hell: Hecate or Proserpine. She is also the 
moon goddess. The sense of this prophecy, therefore, is that Dante 
will be exiled within fifty full moons. Dante was banished from Flor- 
ence in 1302, well within the fifty months of the prophecy. 

83. that populace: The Florentines. 

97-108. THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE DAMNED. Dante notes 
with surprise that Farinata can foresee the future, but that Cavalcanti 
does not know whether his son is presently dead or alive. Farinata 
explains by outlining a most ingenious detail of the Divine Plan: the 
damned can see far into the future, but nothing of what is present or 
of what has happened. Thus, after Judgment, when there is no 
longer any Future, the intellects of the damned will be void. 

119. the second Frederick: The Emperor Frederick II. In Canto 
XIII Dante has Pier delle Vigne speak of him as one worthy of 
honor, but he was commonly reputed to be an Epicurean. 

119-120. the Cardinal of the Uhaldini: In the original Dante 
refers to him simply as "il Cardinale." Ottaviano degli Ubaldini 
(born circa 1209, died 1273) became a Cardinal in 1245, but his 
energies seem to have been directed exclusively to money and 
political intrigue. When he was refused an important loan by the 

Canto X 83 

Ghibellincs, he is reported by many historians as having remarked: 
"I may say that if I have a soul, I have lost it in the cause of the Ghi- 
bellines, and no one of them will help me now." The words "If I 
have a soul" would be enough to make him guilty in Dante's eyes of 
the charge of heresy. 

131. that Sweet Lady: Beatrice. 

Canto XI 

circle six The Heretics 

The Poets reach the inner edge of the SIXTH CIRCLE and 
find a great jumble of rocks that had once been a cliff, but 
which has fallen into rubble as the result of the great earth- 
quake that shook Hell when Christ died. Below them lies the 
SEVENTH CIRCLE, and so fetid is the air that arises from it 
that the Poets cower for shelter behind a great tomb until 
their breaths can grow accustomed to the stench. 

Dante finds an inscription on the lid of the tomb labeling it 
as the place in Hell ofPOPEANASTASIUS. 

Virgil takes advantage of the delay to outline in detail THE 
DIVISION OF THE LOWER HELL, a theological discourse 
based on The Ethics and The Physics of Aristotle with subse- 
quent medieval interpretations. Virgil explains also why it is 
that the Incontinent are not punished within the walls ofDis, 
and rather ingeniously sets forth the reasons why Usury is 
an act of Violence against Art, which is the child of Nature 
and hence the Grandchild of God. (By "Art, " Dante means 
the arts and crafts by which man draws from nature, i.e., 

As he concludes he rises and urges Dante on. By means 
known only to Virgil, he is aware of the motion of the stars 
and from them he sees that it is about two hours before Sun- 
rise of Holy Saturday. 

We came to the edge of an enormous sink 
rimmed by a circle of great broken boulders. 
Here we found ghastlier gangs. And here the stink 


Canto XI H5 

thrown up by the abyss so overpowered us 

that we drew back, cowering behind the wall 5 

of one of the great tombs; and standing thus, 

I saw an inscription in the stone, and read: 
"I guard Anastasius, once Pope, 
he whom Photinus led from the straight road." 

"Before we travel on to that blind pit 10 

we must delay until our sense grows used 
to its foul breath, and then we will not mind it," 

my Master said. And I then: "Let us find 
some compensation for the time of waiting." 
And he: "You shall see I have just that in mind. 15 

My son," he began, "there are below this wall 
three smaller circles, each in its degree 
like those you are about to leave, and all 

are crammed with God's accurst. Accordingly, 

that you may understand their sins at sight, 20 

I will explain how each is prisoned, and why. 

Malice is th e sin most hated by God. 
And the aim of malice is to injure others 
whether by fraud or violence. But since fraud 

is the vice of which man alone is capable, 25 

God loathes it most. Therefore, the fraudulent 
are placed below, and their torment is more painful. 

The first below are the violent. But as violence 
sins in three persons, so is that circle formed 
of three descending rounds of crueler torments. 30 

Against God, self, and neighbor is violence shown. 
Against their persons and their goods, I say, 
as you shall hear set forth with open reason. 

86 The Inferno 

Murder and mayhem are the violation 

of the person of one's neighbor: and of his goods; 35 

harassment, plunder, arson, and extortion. 

Therefore, homicides, and those who strike 
in malice — destroyers and plunderers — all lie 
in that first round, and like suffers with like. 

A man may lay violent hands upon his own 40 

person and substance; so in that second round 
eternally in vain repentance moan 

the suicides and all who gamble away 

and waste the good and substance of their lives 

and weep in that sweet time when they should be gay. 45 

Violence may be offered the deity 

in the heart that blasphemes and refuses Him 

and scorns the gifts of Nature, her beauty and bounty. 

Therefore, the smallest round brands with its mark 

both Sodom and Cahors, and all who rail 50 

at God and His commands in their hearts' dark. 

Fraud, which is a canker to every conscience, 

may be practiced by a man on those who trust him, 
and on those who have reposed no confidence. 

The latter mode seems only to deny 55 

the bond of love which all men have from Nature; 
therefore within the second circle lie 

simoniacs, sycophants, and hypocrites, 
falsifiers, thieves, and sorcerers, 
grafters, pimps, and all such filthy cheats. 60 

The former mode of fraud not only denies 
the bond of Nature, but the special trust 
added by bonds of friendship or blood-ties. 

Canto XI 87 

Hence, at the center point of all creation, 

in the smallest circle, on which Dis is founded, 65 

the traitors lie in endless expiation." 

"Master," I said, "the clarity of your mind 
impresses all you touch; I see quite clearly 
the orders of this dark pit of the blind. 

But tell me: those who lie in the swamp's bowels, 70 

those the wind blows about, those the rain beats, 
and those who meet and clash with such mad howls — 

why are they not punished in the rust-red city 
if God's wrath be upon them? and if it is not, 
why must they grieve through all eternity?" 75 

And he: "Why does your understanding stray 
so far from its own habit? or can it be 
your thoughts are turned along some other way? 

Have you forgotten that your Ethics states 

the three main dispositions of the soul 80 

that lead to those offenses Heaven hates — 

incontinence, malice, and bestiality? 
and how incontinence offends God least 
and earns least blame from Justice and Charity? 

Now if you weigh this doctrine and recall 85 

exactly who they are whose punishment 
lies in that upper Hell outside the wall, 

you will understand at once why they are confined 
apart from these fierce wraiths, and why less anger 
beats down on them from the Eternal Mind." 90 

"O sun which clears all mists from troubled sight, 
such joy attends your rising that I feel 
as grateful to the dark as to the light. 

88 The Inferno 

Go back a little further," I said, "to where 

you spoke of usury as an offense 95 

against God's goodness. How is that made clear?" 

"Philosophy makes plain by many reasons," 

he answered me, "to those who heed her teachings, 
how all of Nature, — her laws, her fruits, her seasons, — 

springs from the Ultimate Intellect and Its art: 1 00 

and if you read your Physics with due care, 
you will note, not many pages from the start, 

that Art strives after her by imitation, 
as the disciple imitates the master; 
Art, as it were, is the Grandchild of Creation. 1 05 

By this, recalling the Old Testament 

near the beginning of Genesis, you will see 
that in the will of Providence, man was meant 

to labor and to prosper. But usurers, 

by seeking their increase in other ways, 1 1 

scorn Nature in herself and her followers. 

But come, for it is my wish now to go on: 

the wheel turns and the Wain lies over Caurus, 
the Fish are quivering low on the horizon, 

and there beyond us runs the road we go 115 

down the dark scarp into the depths below." 


2. broken boulders: These boulders were broken from the earth- 
quake that shook Hell at the death of Christ. 

3. the stink: The stink is, of course, symbolic of the foulness of 
Hell and its sins. The action of the Poets in drawing back from it, 

Canto XI gg 

and their meditations on the nature of sin, are therefore subject to al- 
legorical as well as to literal interpretation. 

X 9. ANASTASIUS and PHOTINUS: Anastasius II was Pope 
from 496 to 4 ( )K. This was the time of schism between the Eastern 
(( Sreek)and Western ( Roman) Churches. Photinus, deacon of Thes- 
salonica, was of the ( toeek Church and held to the Acacian heresy, 
which denied the divine paternity of Christ. Dante follows the report 
that Anastasius gave communion to Photinus, thereby countenanc- 
ing his heresy. Dante's sources, however, had probably confused 
Anastasius II, the Pope, with Anastasius I, who was Emperor from 
4 1 >I to SI 8. It was the Emperor Anastasius who was persuaded by 
Photinus to accept the Acacian heresy. 

17. three smaller circles: The Poets are now at the cliff that 
bounds the Sixth Circle. Below them lie Circles Seven, Eight, and 
Nine. They are smaller in circumference, being closer to the center, 
but they are all intricately subdivided, and will be treated at much 
greater length than were the Circles of Upper Hell. 

LOWER HELL: The structure of Dante's Hell is based on Aristo- 
tle (as Virgil makes clear in his exposition), but with certain Chris- 
tian symbolisms, exceptions, and misconstructions of Aristotle's 
text. The major symbolisms are the three beasts met in Canto I. The 
exceptions are the two peculiarly Christian categories of sin: Pagan- 
ism and Heresy. The misconstructions of Aristotle's text involve the 
classification of "bestiality." Aristotle classified it as a different 
thing from vice or malice, but medieval commentators construed 
the passage to mean "another sort of malice." Dante's intent is clear, 
however; he understood Aristotle to make three categories of sin: 
Incontinence, Violence and Bestiality, and Fraud and Malice. Incon- 
tinence is punished in the Upper Hell. The following table sets forth 
the categories of the Lower Hell. 

90 The Inferno 


Heresy CircleVI 

(Circle VII) 

Round 1. Against Neighbors. 

(Murderers and war-makers) 
Round 2. Against Self. 

(Suicides and destroyers of their 

own substance) 
Round 3. Against God, Art, and Nature. 

(Blasphemers, perverts, and 



(Circle VIII) 






f Bolgia 1 

Bolgia 2 

Bolgia 3 

Bolgia 4 

Bolgia 5 

Bolgia 6 

Bolgia 7 

Bolgia 8 

Bolgia 9 

Bolgia 10 


f Cai'na 

Seducers and 




Fortune tellers 

and diviners. 




Evil counselors. 

Sowers of 



and alchemists. 

(Circle IX) 
(Compound \ 


against kin. 

Antenora. Treachery 

against country. 

Ptolomea. Treachery 

against guests 
and hosts. 

Judecca. Treachery 
against lords 
and benefactors. 

(anto XI 91 

SO Sodom and ( ahors: Bolh these Lilies arc used as symbols lor 
the sms thai are said to haw flourished within them. Sodom (dene 
sis, xix) is, of course, identified with unnatural sex practice: ( a 
bors f acity in southern 1 ranee, was notorious in the Middle Ages for 

its usurers. 

64. the center point of oil (nation: In the Ptolemaic system the 
earth was the center of the universe In Dante's geography, the bot- 
tom of Hell is the center ot the earth. 

70. those who lie, etc.: These arc. ol course, the sinners of the Up- 
per Hell. 

73. the rust- red ( it\: Dis. All of Lowei Hell is within the city 

79. your Ethics: The Ethics of Aristotle. 

101. your Physics: The Physu \ ol Aristotle. 

1 13. the Wain lies over Counts tti The Wain is the constellation 
of the Great Bear. Caurus was the northwest wind in classical 
mythology. Hence the constellation of the Great Bear now lies in the 
northwest. The Fish is the constellation and zodiacal sign of Pisces. 
It is just appearing over the horizon. The next sign of the zodiac is 
Aries. We know from Canto I that the sun is in Aries, and since the 
twelve signs of the zodiac each cover two hours of the day, it must 
now be about two hours before dawn. It is, therefore, approximately 
4:00 a.m. of Holy Saturday. 

The stars are not visible in Hell, but throughout the Inferno Virgil 
reads them by some special power which Dante does not explain. 

Canto XII 

circle seven: round one The Violent Against 


The Poets begin the descent of the fallen rock wall, having 
first to evade the MINOTAUR, who menaces them. Virgil 
tricks him and the Poets hurry by. 

Below them they see the RIVER OF BLOOD, which marks 
the First Round of the Seventh Circle as detailed in the previ- 
ous Canto. Here are punished the VIOLENT AGAINST THEIR 
NEIGHBORS, great war-makers, cruel tyrants, highwaymen — 
all who shed the blood of their fellow men. As they wallowed 
in blood during their lives, so they are immersed in the boil- 
ing blood forever, each according to the degree of his guilt, 
while fierce Centaurs patrol the banks, ready to shoot with 
their arrows any sinner who raises himself out of the boiling 
blood beyond the limits permitted him. ALEXANDER THE 
GREAT is here, up to his lashes in the blood, and with him 
ATTILA, THE SCOURGE OF GOD. They are immersed in the 
deepest part of the river, which grows shallower as it circles 
to the other side of the ledge, then deepens again. 

The Poets are challenged by the Centaurs, but Virgil wins a 
safe conduct from CHIRON, their chief, who assigns NESSUS to 
guide them and to bear them across the shallows of the boiling 
blood. Nessus carries them across at the point where it is only an- 
kle deep and immediately leaves them and returns to his patrol. 

1 he scene that opened from the edge of the pit 
was mountainous, and such a desolation 
that every eye would shun the sight of it: 


Canto XII 93 

a rum like the Slides of Mark near Trent 

on the bank ol the Adige, the result of an earthquake 5 
or o\ some massive fault in the escarpment — 

for, from the point on the peak where the mountain split 
to the plain below, the rock is so badly shattered 
a man at the top might make a rough stair of it. 

Such was the passage down the steep, and there 10 

at the very top, at the edge of the broken cleft, 
lay spread the Infamy of Crete, the heir 

of bestiality and the lecherous queen 

who hid in a wooden cow. And when he saw us, 

he gnawed his own flesh in a fit of spleen. 15 

And my Master mocked: "How you do pump your breath! 
Do you think, perhaps, it is the Duke of Athens, 
who in the world above served up your death? 

Off with you, monster; this one does not come 

instructed by your sister, but of himself 20 

to observe your punishment in the lost kingdom." 

As a bull that breaks its chains just when the knife 
has struck its death-blow, cannot stand nor run 
but leaps from side to side with its last life — 

so danced the Minotaur, and my shrewd Guide 25 

cried out: "Run now! While he is blind with rage! 
Into the pass, quick, and get over the side!" 

So we went down across the shale and slate 
of that ruined rock, which often slid and shifted 
under me at the touch of living weight. 30 

I moved on, deep in thought; and my Guide to me: 
"You are wondering perhaps about this ruin 
which is guarded by that beast upon whose fury 

94 The Inferno 

I played just now. I should tell you that when last 

I came this dark way to the depths of Hell, 35 

this rock had not yet felt the ruinous blast. 

But certainly, if I am not mistaken, 

it was just before the coming of Him who took 
the souls from Limbo, that all Hell was shaken 

so that I thought the universe felt love 40 

and all its elements moved toward harmony, 
whereby the world of matter, as some believe, 

has often plunged to chaos. It was then, 
that here and elsewhere in the pits of Hell, 
the ancient rock was stricken and broke open. 45 

But turn your eyes to the valley; there we shall find 
the river of boiling blood in which are steeped 
all who struck down their fellow men." Oh blind! 

Oh ignorant, self-seeking cupidity 

which spurs us so in the short mortal life 50 

and steeps us so through all eternity! 

I saw an arching fosse that was the bed 

of a winding river circling through the plain 
exactly as my Guide and Lord had said. 

A file of Centaurs galloped in the space 55 

between the bank and the cliff, well armed with arrows, 
riding as once on earth they rode to the chase. 

And seeing us descend, that straggling band 
halted, and three of them moved out toward us, 
their long bows and their shafts already in hand. 60 

And one of them cried out while still below: 

"To what pain are you sent down that dark coast? 
Answer from where you stand, or I draw the bow!" 

Canto XII 95 

"Chiron is standing there hard by your side; 

our answer will be to him. This wrath of yours 65 

was always your own worst fate," my Guide replied. 

And to me he said: "That is Nessus, who died in the wood 
for insulting Dejanira. At his death 
he plotted his revenge in his own blood. 

The one in the middle staring at his chest 70 

is the mighty Chiron, he who nursed Achilles: 
the other is Pholus, fiercer than all the rest. 

They run by that stream in thousands, snapping their bows 
at any wraith who dares to raise himself 
out of the blood more than his guilt allows." 75 

We drew near those swift beasts. In a thoughtful pause 
Chiron drew an arrow, and with its notch 
he pushed his great beard back along his jaws. 

And when he had thus uncovered the huge pouches 

of his lips, he said to his fellows: "Have you noticed 80 
how the one who walks behind moves what he touches? 

That is not how the dead go." My good Guide, 
already standing by the monstrous breast 
in which the two mixed natures joined, replied: 

"It is true he lives; in his necessity 85 

I alone must lead him through this valley. 
Fate brings him here, not curiosity. 

From singing Alleluia the sublime 

spirit who sends me came. He is no bandit. 

Nor am I one who ever stooped to crime. C M 

But in the name of the Power by which I go 
this sunken way across the floor of Hell, 
assign us one of your troop whom we may follow. 

96 The Inferno 

that he may guide us to the ford, and there 

carry across on his back the one I lead, 95 

for he is not a spirit to move through air." 

Chiron turned his head on his right breast 

and said to Nessus: "Go with them, and guide them, 
and turn back any others that would contest 

their passage." So we moved beside our guide 100 

along the bank of the scalding purple river 
in which the shrieking wraiths were boiled and dyed. 

Some stood up to their lashes in that torrent, 
and as we passed them the huge Centaur said: 
"These were the kings of bloodshed and despoilment. 1 05 

Here they pay for their ferocity. 
Here is Alexander. And Dionysius, 
who brought long years of grief to Sicily. 

That brow you see with the hair as black as night 

is Azzolino; and that beside him, the blonde, 1 10 

is Opizzo da Esti, who had his mortal light 

blown out by his own stepson." I turned then 
to speak to the Poet but he raised a hand: 
"Let him be the teacher now, and I will listen." 

Further on, the Centaur stopped beside 115 

a group of spirits steeped as far as the throat 
in the race of boiling blood, and there our guide 

pointed out a sinner who stood alone: 

"That one before God's altar pierced a heart 

still honored on the Thames." And he passed on. 1 20 

We came in sight of some who were allowed 
to raise the head and all the chest from the river, 
and I recognized many there. Thus, as we followed 

Canto XII 97 

along the stream of blood, its level fell 

until it cooked no more than the feet of the damned. 125 
And here we crossed the ford to deeper Hell. 

"Just as you see the boiling stream grow shallow 
along this side," the Centaur said to us 
when we stood on the other bank, "I would have you 

that on the other, the bottom sinks anew 130 

more and more, until it comes again 
full circle to the place where the tyrants stew 

It is there that Holy Justice spends its wrath 
on Sextus and Pyrrhus through eternity, 
and on Attila, who was a scourge on earth: 1 35 

and everlastingly milks out the tears 
of Rinier da Corneto and Rinier Pazzo, 
those two assassins who for many years 

stalked the highways, bloody and abhorred. " 

And with that he started back across the ford. 140 


4. the Slides of Mark: Li Slavoni di Marco are about two miles 
from Rovereto (between Verona and Trent) on the left bank of the 
River Adige. 

9. a man at the top might, etc.: I am defeated in all attempts to 
convey Dante's emphasis in any sort of a verse line. The sense of the 
original: "It might provide some sort of a way down for one who 
started at the top, but (by implication) would not be climbable from 

12-18. the Infamy of Crete: This is the infamous Minotaur of 
classical mythology. His mother was Pasiphae, wife of Minos, the 
King of Crete. She conceived an unnatural passion for a bull, and in 
order to mate with it, she crept into a wooden cow. From this union 

98 The Inferno 

the Minotaur was born, half-man, half-beast. King Minos kept him 
in an ingenious labyrinth from which he could not escape. When 
Androgeos, the son of King Minos, was killed by the Athenians, Mi- 
nos exacted an annual tribute of seven maidens and seven youths. 
These were annually turned into the labyrinth and there were de- 
voured by the Minotaur. 

The monster was finally killed by Theseus, Duke of Athens. He 
was aided by Ariadne, daughter of Minos (and half-sister of the mon- 
ster). She gave Theseus a ball of cord to unwind as he entered the 
labyrinth and a sword with which to kill the Minotaur. 

The Minotaur was, thus, more beast than human, he was con- 
ceived in a sodomitic union, and he was a devourer of human 
flesh — in all ways a fitting symbol of the souls he guards. 

34 ff. THE BROKEN ROCKS OF HELL. According to Matthew, 
xxvii, 51, an earthquake shook the earth at the moment of Christ's 
death. These stones, Dante lets us know, were broken off in that 
earthquake. We shall find other effects of the same shock in the 
Eighth Circle. It is worth noting also that both the Upper (see Canto 
V, 34) and the Lower Hell begin with evidences of this ruin. For de- 
tails of Virgil's first descent see notes to Canto IX. 

38. the coming of Him, etc.: For details of Christ's descent into 
Hell see notes to Canto IV. 

40-42. the universe felt love . . . as some believe: The Greek 
philosopher Empedocles taught that the universe existed by the 
counter-balance (discord or mutual repulsion) of its elements. 
Should the elemental matter feel harmony (love or mutual attrac- 
tion), all would fly together into chaos. 

47. the river of boiling blood: This is Phlegethon, the river that 
circles through the First Round of the Seventh Circle, then sluices 
through the wood of the suicides (the Second Round) and the burn- 
ing sands (Third Round) to spew over the Great Cliff into the Eighth 
Circle, and so, eventually, to the bottom of Hell (Cocytus). 

The river is deepest at the point at which the Poets first approach 
it and grows shallower along both sides of the circle until it reaches 
the ford, which is at the opposite point of the First Round. The souls 
of the damned are placed in deeper or shallower parts of the river ac- 
cording to the degree of their guilt. 

( onto Xll 99 

55. THE CENTAURS. The Centaurs were creatures ol < i 

mythology, hall horse, halt men. They were skilled and savage 
hunters, creatures of passion and violence lake (he Mmoliiiii, the\ 
are symbols of the bestial human, and as such, the) ait fitting!) 
Chosen as the tormentors of these sinners. 

64. Chiron: The son ol Saturn and of the nymph Phihra. He was 
the wisest and most just of the Centaurs and reputedk was the 
teacher of Achilles and of other Greek heroes to whom he imparted 
great skill in bearing arms, medicine, astronomy, music, and augury. 
Dante places him far down in Hell with the others of his kind, but 
though he draws Chiron's coarseness, he also grants him a kind of 
majestie understanding. 

67. Nessus: Nessus earned travelers across the River Evenus tor- 
hire. He was hired to ferry Dejanira. the wife of Hercules, and tried 
to abduct her, but Hercules killed him with a poisoned arrow. While 
Nessus was dying, he whispered to Dejanira that a shirt stained with 
his poisoned blood would act as a love charm should Hercules" af- 
fections stray. When Hercules fell in love with lole, Dejanira sent 
him a shirt stained with the Centaur's blood. The shirt poisoned 
Hercules and he died in agony. Thus Nessus revenged himself with 
his own blood. 

72. Pholus: A number of classical poets mention Pholus, but very 
little else is known of him. 

88-89. the sublime spirit: Beatrice. 

97. Chiron turned his head on his right breast: The right is the 
side of virtue and honor. In Chiron it probably signifies his human 
side as opposed to his bestial side. 

107. Alexander: Alexander the Great. Dionysius: Dionysius I 
(died 367 B.C.) and his son, Dionysius II (died 343), were tyrants of 
Sicily. Both were infamous as prototypes of the bloodthirsty and ex- 
orbitant ruler. Dante may intend either or both. 

110. Azzolino (or Ezzolino): Ezzolino da Romano, Count of 
Onora (1194-1259). The crudest of the Ghibelline tyrants. In 1236 
Frederick II appointed Ezzelino his vicar in Padua. Ezzolino be- 
came especially infamous for his bloody treatment of the Paduans, 
whom he slaughtered in great numbers. 

WO The Inferno 

111. Opizzo da Esti: Marquis of Ferrara (1264-1293). The ac- 
count of his life is confused. One must accept Dante's facts as given. 

119-120. that one . . . a heart still honored on the Thames: The 
sinner indicated is Guy de Montfort. His father, Simon de Montfort, 
was a leader of the barons who rebelled against Henry III and was 
killed at the battle of Evesham (1265) by Prince Edward (later Ed- 
ward I). 

In 1271, Guy (then Vicar General of Tuscany) avenged his fa- 
ther's death by murdering Henry's nephew (who was also named 
Henry). The crime was openly committed in a church at Viterbo. 
The murdered Henry's heart was sealed in a casket and sent to Lon- 
don, where it was accorded various honors. 

134. Sextus: Probably the younger son of Pompey the Great. His 
piracy is mentioned in Lucan (Pharsalia, VI, 420-422). Pyrrhus: 
Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, was especially bloodthirsty at the 
sack of Troy. Pyrrhus, King of Epirus (319-272 B.C.), waged relent- 
less and bloody war against the Greeks and Romans. Either may be 

135. Attila: King of the Huns from 433 to 453. He was called the 
Scourge of God. 

137. Rinier da Corneto, Rinier Pazzo (Rin-YAIR PAH-tsoe): 
Both were especially bloodthirsty robber-barons of the thirteenth 

Canto XIII 

circle seven: round two The Violent Against 


Nessus carries the Poets across the river of boiling blopd 
and leaves them in the Second Round of the Seventh Circle, 
THE WOOD OF THE SUICIDES. Here are punished those 
who destroyed their own lives and those who destroyed their 

The souls of the Suicides are encased in thorny trees whose 
leaves are eaten by the odious HARPIES, the overseers of 
these damned. When the Harpies feed upon them, damaging 
their leaves and limbs, the wound bleeds. Only as long as the 
blood flows are the souls of the trees able to speak. Thus, they 
who destroyed their own bodies are denied a human form; 
and just as the supreme expression of their lives was self- 
destruction, so they are permitted to speak only through that 
which tears and destroys them. Only through their own blood 
do they find voice. And to add one more dimension to the sym- 
bolism, it is the Harpies — defders of all they touch — who give 
them their eternally recurring wounds. 

The Poets pause before one tree and speak with the soul of 
PIER DELLE VIGNE. In the same wood they see JACOMO 
DA SANT ANDREA, and LANO DA SIENA, two famous 
by a pack of savage hounds. The hounds overtake SANT' AN- 
DREA, tear him to pieces and go off carrying his limbs in 
their teeth, a self-evident symbolic retribution for the vio- 
lence with which these sinners destroyed their substance in 
the world. After this scene of horror, Dante speaks to an UN- 
KNOWN FLORENTINE SUICIDE whose soul is inside the 


102 The Inferno 

bush which was torn by the hound pack when it leaped upon 
Sanf Andrea. 

Nessus had not yet reached the other shore 
when we moved on into a pathless wood 
that twisted upward from Hell's broken floor. 

Its foliage was not verdant, but nearly black. 

The unhealthy branches, gnarled and warped and tangled, 5 
bore poison thorns instead of fruit. The track 

of those wild beasts that shun the open spaces 
men till between Cecina and Corneto 
runs through no rougher nor more tangled places. 

Here nest the odious Harpies of whom my Master 1 

wrote how they drove Aeneas and his companions 
from the Strophades with prophecies of disaster. 

Their wings are wide, their feet clawed, their huge bellies 
covered with feathers, their necks and faces human. 
They croak eternally in the unnatural trees. 15 

"Before going on, I would have you understand," 
my Guide began, "we are in the second round 
and shall be till we reach the burning sand. 

Therefore look carefully and you will see 

things in this wood, which, if I told them to you 20 

would shake the confidence you have placed in me." 

I heard cries of lamentation rise and spill 
on every hand, but saw no souls in pain 
in all that waste; and, puzzled, I stood still. 

I think perhaps he thought that I was thinking 25 

those cries rose from among the twisted roots 
through which the spirits of the damned were slinking 

Canto XI11 103 

to hide from us. Therefore my Master said: 
"If you break off a twit', what you will learn 
will drive what you are thinking from your head ' W 

Puzzled, 1 raised my hand a bit and slowly 

broke off a branehlet from an enormous thorn: 

and the great trunk of if cried: "Why do you break me ' 

And after blood had darkened all the bov\ I 

of the wound, it cried again: "Why do you tear me? ;s 

Is there no pity left in any soul'/ 

Men we were, and now we are changed to sticks; 
well might your hand have been more merciful 
were we no more than souls of lice and ticks." 

As a green branch with one end all aflame 40 

will hiss and sputter sap out of the other 
as the air escapes — so from that trunk there came 

words and blood together, gout by gout. 

Startled, I dropped the branch that I was holding 

and stood transfixed by fear, half turned about 45 

to my Master, who replied: "O wounded soul, 
could he have believed before what he has seen 
in my verses only, you would yet be whole, 

for his hand would never have been raised against you. 
But knowing this truth could never be believed 50 

till it was seen, I urged him on to do 

what grieves me now; and I beg to know your name, 
that to make you some amends in the sweet world 
when he returns, he may refresh your fame." 

And the trunk: "So sweet those words to me that I 55 

cannot be still, and may it not annoy you 
if I seem somewhat lengthy in reply. 

104 The Inferno 

I am he who held both keys to Frederick's heart, 
locking, unlocking with so deft a touch 
that scarce another soul had any part 60 

in his most secret thoughts. Through every strife 
I was so faithful to my glorious office 
that for it I gave up both sleep and life. 

That harlot, Envy, who on Caesar's face 

keeps fixed forever her adulterous stare, 65 

the common plague and vice of court and palace, 

inflamed all minds against me. These inflamed 
so inflamed him that all my happy honors 
were changed to mourning. Then, unjustly blamed, 

my soul, in scorn, and thinking to be free 70 ( 

of scorn in death, made me at last, though just, 
unjust to myself. By the new roots of this tree 

I swear to you that never in word or spirit 
did I break faith to my lord and emperor 
who was so worthy of honor in his merit. 75 

If either of you return to the world, speak for me, 
to vindicate in the memory of men 
one who lies prostrate from the blows of Envy." 

The Poet stood. Then turned. "Since he is silent," 

he said to me, "do not you waste this hour, 80 

if you wish to ask about his life or torment." 

And I replied: "Question him for my part, 

on whatever you think I would do well to hear; 
I could not, such compassion chokes my heart." 

The Poet began again: "That this man may 85 

with all his heart do for you what your words 
entreat him to, imprisoned spirit, I pray, 

Canto XIII 105 

tell us how the soul is bound and bent 
into these knots, and whether any ever 
frees itself from such imprisonment." 90 

At that the trunk blew powerfully, and then 

the wind became a voice that spoke these words: 
"Briefly is the answer given: when 

out of the flesh from which it tore itself, 

the violent spirit comes to punishment, 95 

Minos assigns it to the seventh shelf. 

It falls into the wood, and landing there, 
wherever fortune flings it, it strikes root, 
and there it sprouts, lusty as any tare, 

shoots up a sapling, and becomes a tree. 1 00 

The Harpies, feeding on its leaves then, give it 
pain and pain's outlet simultaneously. 

Like the rest, we shall go for our husks on Judgment Day, 
but not that we may wear them, for it is not just 
that a man be given what he throws away. 1 05 

Here shall we drag them and in this mournful glade 
our bodies will dangle to the end of time, 
each on the thorns of its tormented shade." 

We waited by the trunk, but it said no more; 

and waiting, we were startled by a noise 110 

that grew through all the wood. Just such a roar 

and trembling as one feels when the boar and chase 
approach his stand, the beasts and branches crashing 
and clashing in the heat of the fierce race. 

And there on the left, running so violently 115 

they broke off every twig in the dark wood, 
two torn and naked wraiths went plunging by me. 

J06 The Inferno 

The leader cried, "Come now, O Death! Come now!" 
And the other, seeing that he was outrun 
cried out: "Your legs were not so ready, Lano, 1 20 

in the jousts at the Toppo." And suddenly in his rush, 
perhaps because his breath was failing him, 
he hid himself inside a thorny bush 

and cowered among its leaves. Then at his back, 
the wood leaped with black bitches, swift as greyhounds 1 25 
escaping from their leash, and all the pack 

sprang on him; with their fangs they opened him 
and tore him savagely, and then withdrew, 
carrying his body with them, limb by limb. 

Then, taking me by the hand across the wood, 130 

my Master led me toward the bush. Lamenting, 
all its fractures blew out words and blood: 

"O Jacomo da Sant' Andrea!" it said, 

"what have you gained in making me your screen? 

What part had I in the foul life you led?" 1 35 

And when my Master had drawn up to it 

he said: "Who were you, who through all your wounds 
blow out your blood with your lament, sad spirit?" 

And he to us: "You who have come to see 

how the outrageous mangling of these hounds 140 

has torn my boughs and stripped my leaves from me, 

O heap them round my ruin! I was born 

in the city that tore down Mars and raised the Baptist. 
On that account the God of War has sworn 

her sorrow shall not end. And were it not 145 

that something of his image still survives 
on the bridge across the Arno, some have thought 

( onto XIII K)7 

those citizens who of their love and pain 
afterwards rebuilt it from the ashes 
left by Attila, would have worked in vain. 1 SO 

I am one who has no tale to tell: 

I made myself a gibbet of my own lintel/ 1 


6-10. The referenee here is to the Marcmmu district of Tuscan) 
which lies between the mountains and the sea The river Cecina is 
the northern boundary of this district; Corneto is on the river Marta, 
which forms the southern boundary. It is a wild district of marsh and 

10-15. THE HARPIES. These hideous birds with the laces ot 
malign women were often associated with the Erinyes (Furies). 
Their original function in mythology was to snatch awa\ the souls 
of men at the command of the gods. Later, they were portrayed 
as defilers of food, and, by extension, of everything they touched. 
The islands of the Strophades were their legendary abode. Aeneas 
and his men landed there and fought with the Harpies, who drove 
them back and pronounced a prophecy of unbearable famine upon 

18. the burning sand: The Third Round of this Circle. 

25. / think perhaps he thought that I was thinking: The original is 
"Cred'io ch 'ei credette ch *io credesse. " This sort of word play was 
considered quite elegant by medieval rhetoricians and by the ornate 
Sicilian School of poetry. Dante's style is based on a rejection of all 
such devices in favor of a sparse and direct diction. The best expla- 
nation of this unusual instance seems to be that Dante is anticipating 
his talk with Pier delle Vigne, a rhetorician who, as we shall see, de- 
lights in this sort of locution. (An analogous stylistic device is com- 
mon in opera, where the musical phrase identified with a given 
character may be sounded by the orchestra when the character is 
about to appear.) 

48. in my verses only: The Aeneid, Book III, describes a similar 
bleeding plant. There, Aeneas pulls at a myrtle growing on a Thracian 

J 08 The Inferno 

hillside. It bleeds where he breaks it and a voice cries out of the 
ground. It is the voice of Polydorus, son of Priam and friend of 
Aeneas. He had been treacherously murdered by the Thracian king. 

58. / am he, etc.: Pier delle Vigne (Pee-YAIR deh-leh VEE- 
nyeh), 1190-1249. A famous and once-powerful minister of Em- 
peror Frederick II. He enjoyed Frederick's whole confidence until 
1 247 when he was accused of treachery and was imprisoned and 
blinded. He committed suicide to escape further torture. (For Fred- 
erick see Canto X.) Pier delle Vigne was famous for his eloquence 
and for his mastery of the ornate Provencal-inspired Sicilian School 
of Italian Poetry, and Dante styles his speech accordingly. The dou- 
ble balanced construction of line 59, the repetition of key words in 
lines 67-69 and 70-72 are characteristic of this rhetorical fashion. 
It is worth noting, however, that the style changes abruptly in the 
middle of line 72. There, his courtly preamble finished, delle Vigne 
speaks from the heart, simply and passionately. 

58. who held both keys: The phrasing unmistakably suggests the 
Papal keys; delle Vigne may be suggesting that he was to Frederick 
as the Pope is to God. 

64. Caesar: Frederick II was of course Caesar of the Roman Em- 
pire, but in this generalized context "Caesar" seems to be used as a 
generic term for any great ruler, i.e., "The harlot, Envy, never turns 
her attention from those in power." 

72. new roots: Pier delle Vigne had only been in Hell fifty-one 
years, a short enough time on the scale of eternity. 

98. wherever fortune flings it: Just as the soul of the suicide re- 
fused to accept divine regulation of its mortal life span, so eternal 
justice takes no special heed of where the soul falls. 

102. pain and pain's outlet simultaneously: Suicide also gives 
pain and its outlet simultaneously. 

arc driven naked through the thorny wood pursued by ravening 
bitches who tear them to pieces and carry off the limbs. (Obviously 
the limbs must re-form at some point so that the process can be re- 
peated. For a parallel see Canto XXVIII, the Schismatics. Boccac- 
cio uses an identical device in the Decameron, V, vi.) The bitches 

Canto XI 11 109 

may he taken as symbolizing conscience, the last besieging 
tors of the damned who must satisfy their claims hy dividing their 
wretched bodies, since nothing else is left them. It is not simply 
prodigality that plaees them here hut the violence of their wasting. 
This fad of violent wasting, scandalously prevalent m Dante's Flor 
ence, is hard to imagine today. 

120. Lano: Lano da Siena, a famous squanderer. He died at the 
ford of the river Toppo near Arezzo in 1 287 in a battle against the 
Aretines. Boecaccio writes that he deliberately eourted death hav- 
ing squandered all his great wealth and being unwilling to live on in 
poverty. Thus his companion's jeer probably means: "You were not 
so ready to run then, Lano: why are you running now?" 

133. Jacomo da Sant' Andrea (YAH-coe-moe): A Paduan with an 
infamous lust for laying waste his own goods and those of his neigh- 
bors. Arson was his favorite prank. On one occasion, to celebrate the 
arrival of certain noble guests, he set fire to all the workers' huts and 
outbuildings of his estate. He was murdered in 1 239, probably by 
assassins hired by Ezzolino (for whom see Canto XII ). 

that is known of him is what he says himself. 

143. the city that tore down Mars and raised the Baptist: Flor- 
ence. Mars was the first patron of the city and when the Florentines 
were converted to Christianity they pulled down his equestrian 
statue and built a church on the site of his temple. The statue of Mars 
was placed on a tower beside the Arno. When Totila (see note to line 
1 50) destroyed Florence, the tower fell into the Arno and the statue 
with it. Legend has it that Florence could never have been rebuilt 
had not the mutilated statue been rescued. It was placed on the Ponte 
Vecchio but was carried away in the flood of 1 333. 

150. Attila: Dante confuses Attila with Totila, King of the Ostro- 
goths (died 552). He destroyed Florence in 542. Attila (d. 453), 
King of the Huns, destroyed many cities of northern Italy, but not 

Canto XIV 

circle seven: round three The Violent Against 

God, Nature, and Art 

Dante, in pity, restores the torn leaves to the soul of his coun- 
tryman and the Poets move on to the next round, a great 
PLAIN OF BURNING SAND upon which there descends an 
eternal slow RAIN OF FIRE. Here, scorched by fire from 
above and below, are three classes of sinners suffering differ- 
ing degrees of exposure to the fire. The BLASPHEMERS (The 
Violent against God) are stretched supine upon the sand, the 
SODOMITES (The Violent against Nature) run in endless 
circles, and the USURERS (The Violent against Art, which is 
the Grandchild of God) huddle on the sands. 

The Poets find CAPANEUS stretched out on the sands, the 
chief sinner of that place. He is still blaspheming God. They 
continue along the edge of the Wood of the Suicides and come 
to a blood-red rill which flows boiling from the Wood and 
crosses the burning plain. Virgil explains the miraculous 
power of its waters and discourses on the OLD MAN OF 
CRETE and the origin of all the rivers of Hell. 

The symbolism of the burning plain is obviously centered 
in sterility (the desert image) and wrath (the fire image). 
Blasphemy, sodomy, and usury are all unnatural and sterile 
actions: thus the unbearing desert is the eternity of these sin- 
ners; and thus the rain, which in nature should be fertile and 
cool, descends as fire. Capaneus, moreover, is subjected not 
only to the wrath of nature (the sands below) and the wrath of 
God (the fire from above), but is tortured most by his own in- 
ner violence, which is the root of blasphemy. 


Canto XIV III 

Love of that land that was our common source 
moved me to tears; I gathered up the leaves 
and gave them back. He was already hoarse. 

We came to the edge of the forest where one goes 

from the second round to the third, and there we saw 5 
what fearful arts the hand of Justice knows. 

To make these new things wholly clear, I say 
we came to a plain whose soil repels all roots. 
The wood of misery rings it the same way 

the wood itself is ringed by the red fosse. 1 

We paused at its edge: the ground was burning sand, 
just such a waste as Cato marched across. 

O endless wrath of God: how utterly 
thou shouldst become a terror to all men 
who read the frightful truths revealed to me ! 15 

Enormous herds of naked souls I saw, 

lamenting till their eyes were burned of tears; 
they seemed condemned by an unequal law, 

for some were stretched supine upon the ground, 

some squatted with their arms about themselves, 20 

and others without pause roamed round and round. 

Most numerous were those that roamed the plain. 
Far fewer were the souls stretched on the sand, 
but moved to louder cries by greater pain. 

And over all that sand on which they lay 25 

or crouched or roamed, great flakes of flame fell slowly 
as snow falls in the Alps on a windless day. 

Like those Alexander met in the hot regions 
of India, flames raining from the sky 
to fall still unextinguished on his legions: 30 

772 The Inferno 

whereat he formed his ranks, and at their head 
set the example, trampling the hot ground 
for fear the tongues of fire might join and spread — 

just so in Hell descended the long rain 

upon the damned, kindling the sand like tinder 35 

under a flint and steel, doubling the pain. 

In a never-ending fit upon those sands, 

the arms of the damned twitched all about their bodies, 
now here, now there, brushing away the brands. 

"Poet," I said, "master of every dread 40 

we have encountered, other than those fiends 
who sallied from the last gate of the dead — 

who is that wraith who lies along the rim 
and sets his face against the fire in scorn, 
so that the rain seems not to mellow him?" 45 

And he himself, hearing what I had said 

to my Guide and Lord concerning him, replied: 
"What I was living, the same am I now, dead. 

Though Jupiter wear out his sooty smith 

from whom on my last day he snatched in anger 50 

the jagged thunderbolt he pierced me with; 

though he wear out the others one by one 
who labor at the forge at Mongibello 
crying again 'Help! Help! Help me, good Vulcan!' 

as he did at Phlegra; and hurl down endlessly 55 

with all the power of Heaven in his arm, 
small satisfaction would he win from me." 

At this my Guide spoke with such vehemence 
as I had not heard from him in all of Hell: 
"O Capaneus, by your insolence 60 

Canto XIV IK 

you arc made to sutler as much fire inside 
as falls upon you. Only your own rage 
could be fit torment for your sullen pride." 

Then he turned to me more gently. "That," lie said, 

"was one of the Seven who laid siege to Thebes. 65 

Living, he scorned God, and among the dead 

he scorns Him yet. He thinks he may detest 
God's power too easily, but as I told him, 
his slobber is a fit badge for his breast. 

Now follow me; and mind for your own good 70 

you do not step upon the burning sand, 
but keep well back along the edge of the wood." 

We walked in silence then till we reached a rill 
that gushes from the wood; it ran so red 
the memory sends a shudder through me still. 75 

As from the Bulicame springs the stream 
the sinful women keep to their own use; 
so down the sand the rill flowed out in steam. 

The bed and both its banks were petrified, 

as were its margins; thus I knew at once 80 

our passage through the sand lay by its side. 

"Among all other wonders I have shown you 
since we came through the gate denied to none, 
nothing your eyes have seen is equal to 

the marvel of the rill by which we stand, 85 

for it stifles all the flames above its course 
as it flows out across the burning sand." 

So spoke my Guide across the flickering light, 
and I begged him to bestow on me the food 
for which he had given me the appetite. 90 

114 The Inferno 

"In the middle of the sea, and gone to waste, 
there lies a country known as Crete," he said, 
"under whose king the ancient world was chaste. 

Once Rhea chose it as the secret crypt 

and cradle of her son; and better to hide him, 95 

her Corybantes raised a din when he wept. 

An ancient giant stands in the mountain's core. 
He keeps his shoulder turned toward Damietta, 
and looks toward Rome as if it were his mirror. 

His head is made of gold; of sil verwork 1 00 

his breast and both his arms, of polished brass 
the rest of his great torso to the fork. 

He is of chosen iron from there down, 
except that his right foot is terra cotta; 
it is this foot he rests more weight upon. 105 

Every part except the gold is split 

by a great fissure from which endless tears 
drip down and hollow out the mountain's pit. 

Their course sinks to this pit from stone to stone, 

becoming Acheron, Phlegethon, and Styx. 1 10 

Then by this narrow sluice they hurtle down 

to the end of all descent, and disappear 

into Cocytus. You shall see what sink that is 
with your own eyes. I pass it in silence here." 

And I to him: "But if these waters flow 1 15 

from the world above, why is this rill met only 
along this shelf?" And he to me: "You know 

the place is round, and though you have come deep 
into the valley through the many circles, 
always bearing left along the steep, 1 20 

Canto XIV 115 

you have not traveled any circle through 

its total round; hence when new things appear 
from time to time, that hardly should surprise you." 

And I: "Where shall we find Phlegethon's course? 

And Lethe's? One you omit, and of the other 1 25 

you only say the tear-flood is its source." 

"In all you ask of me you please me truly," 
he answered, "but the red and boiling water 
should answer the first question you put to me, 

and you shall stand by Lethe, but far hence: 1 30 

there, where the spirits go to wash themselves 
when their guilt has been removed by penitence." 

And then he said: "Now it is time to quit 
this edge of shade: follow close after me 
along the rill, and do not stray from it; 1 35 

for the unburning margins form a lane, 

and by them we may cross the burning plain." 


12. just such a waste as Cato marched across: In 47 B.C., Cato of 
Utica led an army across the Libyan desert. Lucan described the 
march in Pharsalia, IX, 587 ff. 

28-33. Like those Alexander: This incident of Alexander the 
Great's campaign in India is described in De Meteoris of Albertus 
Magnus and was taken by him with considerable alteration from a 
letter reputedly sent to Aristotle by Alexander. 

43. that wraith who lies along the rim: Capaneus, one of the 
seven captains who warred on Thebes. As he scaled the walls of 
Thebes, Capaneus defied Jove to protect them. Jove replied with a 
thunderbolt that killed the blasphemer with his blasphemy still on 
his lips. (Statius, Thebiad, X, 845 ff.) 

116 The Inferno 

53. Mongibello: Mt. Etna. Vulcan was believed to have his 
smithy inside the volcano. 

55. as he did at Phlegra: At the battle of Phlegra in Thessaly the 
Titans tried to storm Olympus. Jove drove them back with the help 
of the thunderbolts Vulcan forged for him. Capaneus himself is rem- 
iniscent of the Titans: like them he is a giant, and he certainly is no 
less impious. 

73. we reached a rill: The rill, still blood-red and still boiling, is 
the overflow of Phlegethon which descends across the Wood of the 
Suicides and the Burning Plain to plunge over the Great Cliff into 
the Eighth Circle. It is clearly a water of marvels, for it not only pet- 
rifies the sands over which it flows, but its clouds of steam quench 
all the flames above its course. It is obvious that the Poets' course 
across the plain will lie along the margins of this rill. 

76. the Bulicame (Boo-lee-KAH-meh): A hot sulphur spring near 
Viterbo. The choice is strikingly apt, for the waters of the Bulicame 
not only boil and steam but have a distinctly reddish tint as a conse- 
quence of their mineral content. A part of the Bulicame flows out 
through what was once a quarter reserved to prostitutes; and they 
were given special rights to the water, since they were not permitted 
to use the public baths. 

94. Rhea: Wife of Saturn (Cronos) and mother of Jove (Zeus). It 
had been prophesied to Saturn that one of his own children would 
dethrone him. To nullify the prophecy Saturn devoured each of his 
children at birth. On the birth of Jove, Rhea duped Saturn by letting 
him bolt down a stone wrapped in baby clothes. After this tribute to 
her husband's appetite she hid the infant on Mount Ida in Crete. 
There she posted her Corybantes (or Bacchantes) as guards and in- 
structed them to set up a great din whenever the baby cried. Thus 
Saturn would not hear him. The Corybantic dances of the ancient 
Greeks were based on the frenzied shouting and clashing of swords 
on shields with which the Corybantes protected the infant Jove. 

97. An ancient giant: This is the Old Man of Crete. The original 
of this figure occurs in Daniel, ii, 32-34, where it is told by Daniel 
as Nebuchadnezzar's dream. Dante follows the details of the origi- 
nal closely but adds a few of his own and a totally different interpre- 
tation. In Dante each metal represents one of the ages of man, each 

Canto XIV 117 

deteriorating from the Golden Age of [nnocence. The left loot, ter- 
minating the Age of Iron, is the Holy Roman Empire. The right foot, 
of terra COtta, is the Roman Catholie Church, a more fragile base 
than the left, but the one upon which the greater weight descends. 
The tears of the woes of man are a Dantean detail: they flow down 
the great fissure that defaces all hut the Golden Age. Thus, stalling 
in woe, they flow through man's decline, into the hollow <>! the 
mountain and become the waters of all Hell. Dante's other major ad- 
dition is the site and position of the figure: equidistant from the three- 
continents, the Old Man stands at a sort of center of Time, his back 
turned to Damietta in Egypt (here symbolizing the East, the past, the 
birth of religion) and fixes his gaze upon Rome (the West, the future, 
the Catholic Church). It is certainly the most elaborately worked 
single symbol in the Inferno. 

1 1 3. Cocytus: The frozen lake that lies at the bottom of Hell. (See 

124-125. Phlegethon . . . Lethe: Dante asks about Phlegethon 
and is told that he has already seen it (in the First Round: it is the 
river of boiling blood) and, in fact, that he is standing beside a 
branch of it. He asks about Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, and is 
told it lies ahead. 

Canto XV 

circle seven: round three The Violent 

Against Nature 


- Protected by the marvelous powers of the boiling rill, the Poets 
y walk along its banks across the burning plain. The WOOD OF 
THE SUICIDES is behind them; the GREAT CLIFF at whose 
foot lies the EIGHTH CIRCLE is before them. 

They pass one of the roving bands of SODOMITES. One of 
the sinners stops Dante, and with great difficulty the Poet 
recognizes him under his baked features as SER BRUNETTO 
LATINO. This is a reunion with a dearly-loved man and 
writer one who had considerably influenced Dante 's own de- 
velopment, and Dante addresses him with great and sorrow- 
ful affection, paying him the highest tribute offered to any 
sinner in the Inferno. BRUNETTO prophesies Dante 's suffer- 
ings at the hands of the Florentines, gives an account of the 
souls that move with him through the fire, and finally, under 
Divine Compulsion, races off across the plain. 

We go by one of the stone margins now 

and the steam of the rivulet makes a shade above it, 
guarding the stream and banks from the flaming snow. 

As the Flemings in the lowland between Bruges 

and Wissant, under constant threat of the sea, 5 

erect their great dikes to hold back the deluge; 

as the Paduans along the shores of the Brent 
build levees to protect their towns and castles 
lest Chiarentana drown in the spring torrent — 


Canto XV I /<J 

to the same plan, though not so wide nor high, 1 

did the engineer, whoever he may have been, 
design the margin we were crossing by. 

Already we were so far from the wood 
that even had I turned to look at it, 
I could not have made it out from where I stood, 1 5 

when a company of shades came into sight 
walking beside the bank. They stared at us 
as men at evening by the new moon's light 

stare at one another when they pass by 

on a dark road, pointing their eyebrows toward us 20 

as an old tailor squints at his needle's eye. 

Stared at so closely by that ghostly crew, 
I was recognized by one who seized the hem 
of my skirt and said: "Wonder of wonders! You?" 

And I, when he stretched out his arm to me, 25 

searched his baked features closely, till at last 
I traced his image from my memory 

in spite of the burnt crust, and bending near 
to put my face closer to his, at last 
I answered: "Ser Brunetto, are you here?" 30 

"O my son! may it not displease you," he cried, 
"if Brunetto Latino leave 'his company 
and turn and walk a little by your side." 

And I to him: "With all my soul I ask it. 

Or let us sit together, if it please him 35 

who is my Guide and leads me through this pit." 

"My son!" he said, "whoever of this train 
pauses a moment, must lie a hundred years 
forbidden to brush off the burning rain. 

J 20 The Inferno 

Therefore, go on; I will walk at your hem, 40 

and then rejoin my company, which goes 
mourning eternal loss in eternal flame." 

I did not dare descend to his own level 
but kept my head inclined, as one who walks 
in reverence meditating good and evil. 45 

"What brings you here before your own last day? 
What fortune or what destiny?" he began. 
"And who is he that leads you this dark way?" 

"Up there in the happy life I went astray 

in a valley," I replied, "before I had reached 50 

the fullness of my years. Only yesterday 

at dawn I turned from it. This spirit showed 
himself to me as I was turning back, 
and guides me home again along this road." 

And he: "Follow your star, for if in all 55 

of the sweet life I saw one truth shine clearly, 
you cannot miss your glorious arrival. 

And had I lived to do what I meant to do, 

I would have cheered and seconded your work, 
observing Heaven so well disposed toward you. 60 

But that ungrateful and malignant stock 
that came down from Fiesole of old 
and still smacks of the mountain and the rock, 

for your good works will be your enemy. 

And there is cause: the sweet fig is not meant 65 

to bear its fruit beside the bitter sorb-tree. 

Even the old adage calls them blind, 
an envious, proud, and avaricious people: 
see that you root their customs from your mind. 

Canto XV 121 

It is written in your stars, and will come to pass, 70 

that your honours shall make both sides hunger lor you: 
but the goat shall never reach to crop that grass. 

Let the beasts of Fiesole devour their get 
like sows, but never let them touch the plant, 
if among their rankness any springs up yet, 75 

in which is born again the holy seed 

of the Romans who remained among their rabble 
when Florence made a new nest for their greed." 

"Ah, had I all my wish," I answered then, 

"you would not yet be banished from the world 80 

in which you were a radiance among men, 

for that sweet image, gentle and paternal, 

you were to me in the world when hour by hour 
you taught me how man makes himself eternal, 

lives in my mind, and now strikes to my heart; 85 

and while I live, the gratitude I owe it 
will speak to men out of my life and art. 

What you have told me of my course, I write 
by another text I save to show a Lady 
who will judge these matters, if I reach her height. 90 

This much I would have you know: so long, I say, 
as nothing in my conscience troubles me 
I am prepared for Fortune, come what may. 

Twice already in the eternal shade 

I have heard this prophecy; but let Fortune turn 95 

her wheel as she please, and the countryman his spade." 

My guiding spirit paused at my last word 
and, turning right about, stood eye to eye 
to say to me: "Well heeded is well heard." 

122 The Inferno 

But I did not reply to him, going on 1 00 

with Ser Brunetto to ask him who was with him 
in the hot sands, the best-born and best known. 

And he to me: "Of some who share this walk 
it is good to know; of the rest let us say nothing, 
for the time would be too short for so much talk. 105 

In brief, we all were clerks and men of worth, 
great men of letters, scholars of renown; 
all by the one same crime defiled on earth. 

Priscian moves there along the wearisome 

sad way, and Francesco d' Accorso, and also there, 1 1 
if you had any longing for such scum, 

you might have seen that one the Servant of Servants 
sent from the Arno to the Bacchiglione 
where he left his unnatural organ wrapped in cerements. 

I would say more, but there across the sand 115 

a new smoke rises and new people come, 
and I must run to be with my own band. 

Remember my Treasure, in which I shall live on: 
I ask no more." He turned then, and he seemed, 
across that plain, like one of those who run 1 20 

for the green cloth at Verona; and of those, 
more like the one who wins, than those who lose. 


sodomiti, the Sodomites: At root, the moral descendants of the peo- 
ple of biblical Sodom, by which Dante meant homosexuals, though 
he would probably have classed as sodomy oral and anal sex be- 
tween heterosexuals, his puritanism classing all such sexuality as 
"bestial." The connotations of the word "bestial" when so used have 

Canto XV 123 

led to the more recent sense of sodomy as sexual union of a human 
being and an animal, though this is only one of the word's senses, 
the original reference to homosexual Sodom remaining firm. In XII, 
12-13, Pasiphae is mentioned as having begotten the Minotaur after 
coupling with a great bull, but she is not among the damned souls 
there, nor does she appear here on the burning plain whose wretches 
include a number of known or suspected homosexuals, but none 
with a reputation as an "animal lover." Pasiphae seems, in fact, to be 
used as a sort of musical key to this passage on bestial behavior, but 
sodomy in the recent sense is not otherwise treated, as later in Can- 
tos XXXII-XXXIII cannibalism is not specifically mentioned, 
though the act of cannibalism rings through all the phrasing as an 
ambiguous suggestion. It is almost as if Dante thought these sins too 
grievous to discuss openly. 

10. though not so wide nor high: Their width is never precisely 
specified, but we shall see when Dante walks along speaking to Ser 
Brunetto (line 40) that their height is about that of a man. 

23-1 19. Ser Brunetto Latino: or Latini. (Born between 1210 and 
1230, died 1294.) A prominent Florentine Guelph who held, among 
many other posts, that of notary, whence the title Ser (sometimes 
Sere). He was not Dante's schoolmaster as many have supposed — 
he was much too busy and important a man for that. Dante's use of 
the word "master" is to indicate spiritual indebtedness to Brunetto 
and his works. It is worth noting that Dante addresses him in Italian 
as "voi" instead of using the less respectful "tu" form. Farinata is the 
only other sinner so addressed in the Inferno. Brunetto's two princi- 
pal books, both of which Dante admires, were the prose Livre dou 
Tresor (The Book of the Treasure) and the poetic Tesoretto (The Lit- 
tle Treasure). Dante learned a number of his devices from the alle- 
gorical journey which forms the Tesoretto. 

Dante's surprise at finding Brunetto here is worth puzzling about. 
So too is the fact that he did not ask Ciacco about him (Canto VI) 
when he mentioned other prominent Florentines. One speculation is 
that Dante had not intended to place him in Hell, and that he found 
reason to believe him guilty of this sin only years after Brunetto's 
death (the Inferno was written between 1310 and 1 3 14, in all proba- 
bility). This answer is not wholly satisfactory. 

40. / will walk at your hem: See also line 10. Dante is standing on 

124 The Inferno 

the dike at approximately the level of Brunetto's head and he cannot 
descend because of the rain of fire and the burning sands. 

6 1-67. that ungrateful and malignant stock: The ancient Etruscan 
city of Fiesole was situated on a hill about three miles north of the 
present site of Florence. According to legend, Fiesole had taken 
the side of Catiline in his war with Julius Caesar. Caesar destroyed 
the town and set up a new city called Florence on the Arno, peopling 
it with Romans and Fiesolans. The Romans were the aristocracy of 
the new city, but the Fiesolans were a majority. Dante ascribes the 
endless bloody conflicts of Florence largely to the internal strife be- 
tween these two strains. His scorn of the Fiesolans is obvious in this 
passage. Dante proudly proclaimed his descent from the Roman 

66. sorb-tree: A species of tart apple. 

67. calls them blind: The source of this proverbial expression, 
"Blind as a Florentine," can no longer be traced with any assurance, 
though many incidents from Florentine history suggest possible 

7 1 . shall make both sides hunger for you: Brunetto can scarcely 
mean that both sides will hunger to welcome the support of a man of 
Dante's distinction. Rather, that both sides will hunger to destroy 
him. (See also lines 94-95. Dante obviously accepts this as another 
dark prophecy.) 

73. the beasts of Fiesole: The Fiesolans themselves. 

89. to show a Lady: Beatrice. 

94-99. twice already . . . well heard: The prophecies of Ciacco 
(Canto VI) and of Farinata (Canto X) are the other two places at 
which Dante's exile and suffering are foretold. Dante replies that 
come what may he will remain true to his purpose through all afflic- 
tion; and Virgil turns to look proudly at his pupil uttering a proverb: 
"Bene ascolta chi la nota, " i.e., "Well heeded is well heard." 

109. Priscian: Latin grammarian and poet of the first half of the 
sixth century. 

1 10. Francesco d'Accorso (Frahn-CHAY-skoe dah-KAWR-soe): 
A Florentine scholar. He served as a professor at Bologna and, from 
1273 to 1280, at Oxford. He died in Bologna in 1294. 

Canto XV 125 

1 12-1 13. that one the Servant of Servants . . Arno to the Bac- 

chiglione etc.: "The Servant ol Servants" was Dante's old enemy, 
Boniface VIII. Servus servorum is technically a correct papal title, 
but there is certainly a touch of irony in Dante's application of it in 
this context. In 1295 Boniface transferred Bishop Andrea de' Mozzi 
from the Bishopric of Florence (on the Arno) to that of Vieen/a (on 
the Bacchiglione). The transference was reputedly brought about at 
the request of the Bishops brother, Tommaso de' Mozzi of Flor- 
ence, who wished to remove from his sight the spectacle of his 
brother's stupidity and unnatural vices. 

114. unnatural organ: The original, mal protest nervi. contains 
an untranslatable word-play. Nervi may be taken as "the male or- 
gan" and protest for "erected"; thus the organ aroused to passion for 
unnatural purposes (mal). Or nervi may be taken as "nerves" and 
mal protest for "dissolute." Taken in context, the tirst rendering 
strikes me as more Dantean. 

121. the green cloth: On the first Sunday of Lent all the young 
men of Verona ran a race for the prize of green cloth. The last runner 
in was given a live rooster and was required to carry it through the 

Canto XVI 

circle seven: round three The Violent Against 

Nature and Art 

The Poets arrive within hearing of the waterfall that plunges 
over the GREAT CLIFF into the EIGHTH CIRCLE. The 
sound is still a distant throbbing when three wraiths, recog- 
nizing Dante s Florentine dress ', detach themselves from their 
band and come running toward him. They are JACOPO 
DOBRAND1, all of them Florentines whose policies and per- 
sonalities Dante admired. Rusticucci and Tegghiaio have 
already been mentioned in a highly complimentary way in 
Dante s talk with Ciacco (Canto VI). 

The sinners ask for news of Florence, and Dante replies 
with a passionate lament for her present degradation. The 
three wraiths return to their band and the Poets continue to 
the top of the falls. Here, at Virgil's command, Dante removes 
a CORD from about his waist and Virgil drops it over the 
edge of the abyss. As if in answer to a signal, a great distorted 
shape comes swimming up through the dirty air of the pit. 

We could already hear the rumbling drive 
of the waterfall in its plunge to the next circle, 
a murmur like the throbbing of a hive, 

when three shades turned together on the plain, 
breaking toward us from a company 
that went its way to torture in that rain. 


Canto XVI 127 

They cried with one voice as they ran toward me: 
"Wait, oh wait, for by your dress you seem 
a voyager from our own tainted country/' 

Ah! what wounds I saw, some new, some old, 1 

branded upon their bodies! Even now 
the pain of it in memory turns me cold. 

My Teacher heard their cries, and turning-to, 
stood face to face. "Do as they ask," he said, 
"for these are souls to whom respect is due; 1 5 

and were it not for the darting flames that hem 
our narrow passage in, I should have said 
it were more fitting you ran after them." 

We paused, and they began their ancient wail 

over again, and when they stood below us 20 

they formed themselves into a moving wheel. 

As naked and anointed champions do 

in feeling out their grasp and their advantage 
before they close in for the thrust or blow — 

so circling, each one stared up at my height, 25 

and as their feet moved left around the circle, 
their necks kept turning backward to the right. 

"If the misery of this place, and our unkempt 
and scorched appearance," one of them began, 
"bring us and what we pray into contempt, 30 

still may our earthly fame move you to tell 
who and what you are, who so securely 
set your live feet to the dead dusts of Hell. 

This peeled and naked soul, who runs before me 

around this wheel, was higher than you think 35 

there in the world, in honor and degree. 

128 The Inferno 

Guido Guerra was the name he bore, 

the good Gualdrada's grandson. In his life 
he won great fame in counsel and in war. 

The other who behind me treads this sand 40 

was Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, whose good counsels 
the world would have done well to understand. 

And I who share their torment, in my life 
was Jacopo Rusticucci; above all 
I owe my sorrows to a savage wife." 45 

I would have thrown myself to the plain below 
had I been sheltered from the falling fire; 
and I think my Teacher would have let me go. 

But seeing I should be burned and cooked, my fear 

overcame the first impulse of my heart 50 

to leap down and embrace them then and there. 

"Not contempt," I said, "but the compassion 
that seizes on my soul and memory 
at the thought of you tormented in this fashion — 

it was grief that choked my speech when through the scorching 55 
air of this pit my Lord announced to me 
that such men as you are might be approaching. 

I am of your own land, and I have always 
heard with affection and rehearsed with honor 
your name and the good deeds of your happier days. 60 

Led by my Guide and his truth, I leave the gall 
and go for the sweet apples of delight. 
But first I must descend to the center of all." 

"So may your soul and body long continue 
together on the way you go," he answered, 65 

"and the honor of your days shine after you — 

Canto XVI 129 

tell me if courtesy and valor raise 
their banners in our city as of old, 
or has the glory faded from its days? 

For Borsiere. who is newly come among us 70 

and yonder goes with our companions in pain. 
taunts us with such reports, and his words have stung us." 

"O Florence! your sudden wealth and your upstart 
rabble, dissolute and overweening, 
already set you weeping in your heart!" 75 

I cried with face upraised, and on the sand 
those three sad spirits looked at one another 
like men who hear the truth and understand. 

"If this be your manner of speaking, and if you can 

satisfy others with such ease and grace," 80 

they said as one, "we hail a happy man. 

Therefore, if you win through this gloomy pass 
and climb again to see the heaven of stars; 
when it rejoices you to say T was,' 

speak of us to the living." They parted then, 85 

breaking their turning wheel, and as they vanished 
over the plain, their legs seemed wings. "Amen" 

could not have been pronounced between their start 
and their disappearance over the rim of sand. 
And then it pleased my Master to depart. 90 

A little way beyond we felt the quiver 

and roarof the cascade, so close that speech 

would have been drowned in thunder. As that river — 

the first one on the left of the Apennines 

to have a path of its own from Monte Veso 95 

to the Adriatic Sea — which, as it twines 

130 The Inferno 

is called the Acquacheta from its source 
until it nears Forll, and then is known 
as the Montone in its further course — 

resounds from the mountain in a single leap 100 

there above San Benedetto dell' Alpe 
where a thousand falls might fit into the steep; 

so down from a sheer bank, in one enormous 
plunge, the tainted water roared so loud 
a little longer there would have deafened us. 105 

I had a cord bound round me like a belt 
which I had once thought I might put to use 
to snare the leopard with the gaudy pelt. 

When at my Guide's command I had unbound 

its loops from about my habit, I gathered it 110 

and held it out to him all coiled and wound. 

He bent far back to his right, and throwing it 
out from the edge, sent it in a long arc 
into the bottomless darkness of the pit. 

"Now surely some unusual event," 115 

I said to myself, "must follow this new signal 
upon which my good Guide is so intent." 

Ah, how cautiously a man should breathe 
near those who see not only what we do, 
but have the sense which reads the mind beneath ! 1 20 

He said to me: "You will soon see arise 
what I await, and what you wonder at; 
soon you will see the thing before your eyes." 

To the truth which will seem falsehood every man 

who would not be called a liar while speaking fact 1 25 
should learn to seal his lips as best he can. 

Canto XVI 131 

But here I cannot be still: Reader, I swear 
by the lines of my Comedy — so may it live — 
that I saw swimming up through that foul air 

a shape to astonish the most doughty soul, 1 30 

a shape like one returning through the sea 
from working loose an anchor run afoul 

of something on the bottom — so it rose, 

its arms spread upward and its feet drawn close. 


21 ff . a moving wheel: See Ser Brunetto's words (lines 37-39, 
Canto XV). 

37. Guido Guerra (GHEE-doe or GWEE-doe GWEH-rah): 
(around 1220-1272). A valiant leader of the Guelphs (hence his 
name which signifies Guido of War) despite his Ghibelline origin as 
one of the counts of Guidi. It is a curious fact, considering the 
prominence of Guido, that Dante is the only writer to label him a 

38. the good Gualdrada (Gwahl-DRAH-dah): The legend of "the 
good Gualdrada," Guido Guerra's grandmother, is a typical exam- 
ple of the medieval talent for embroidery. She was the daughter of 
Bellincione Berti de' Ravignana. The legend is that Emperor Otto 
IV saw her in church and, attracted by her beauty, asked who she 
was. Bellincione replied that she was the daughter of one whose 
soul would be made glad to have the Emperor salute her with a kiss. 
The young-lady-of-all- virtues, hearing her father's words, declared 
that no man might kiss her unless he were her husband. Otto was so 
impressed by the modesty and propriety of this remark that he mar- 
ried her to one of his noblemen and settled a large estate upon the 
couple. It was from this marriage that the counts Guidi de Modigliano 
(among them Guido Guerra) were said to descend. 

Unfortunately for the legend, Otto's first visit to Italy was in 
1 209, and surviving records show that Count Guido had already had 
two children by his wife Gualdrada as early as 1202. 

J 32 The Inferno 

41. Tegghiaio Aldobrandi (Tegh-YEYE-oh Ahl-doe-BRAHN- 
dee): Date of birth unknown. He died shortly before 1266. A valiant 
knight of the family degli Adimari of the Guelph nobles. With 
Guido Guerra he advised the Florentines not to move against the 
Sienese at the disastrous battle of Montaperti (See Farinata, Canto 
X), knowing that the Sienese had been heavily reinforced by merce- 
naries. It is probably these good counsels that "the world would 
have done well to understand." This is another case in which Dante 
is the only writer to bring the charge of sodomy. 

44. Jacopo Rusticucci (YAH-coe-poe Roo-stee-KOO-tchee): 
Dates of birth and death unknown, but mention of him exists in Flor- 
entine records of 1235, 1236, 1254, and 1266. A rich and respected 
Florentine knight. Dante's account of his sin and of its cause is the 
only record and it remains unsupported: no details of his life are 

70. Guglielmo Borsiere (Goo-lyELL-moe Bohrs-YEHR-eh): 
"Borsiere" in Italian means "pursemaker," and the legend has 
grown without verification or likelihood that this was his origin. He 
was a courtier, a peacemaker, and an arranger of marriages. Boccac- 
cio speaks of him in highly honorable terms in the Eighth Tale of the 
First Day of the Decameron. 

93 ff. that river: The water course described by Dante and made 
up of the Acquacheta ( Ah-kwa-KAY-tah) and the Montone flows di- 
rectly into the sea without draining into the Po. The placement of it 
as "first one on the left of the Apennines" has been shown by Casella 
to result from the peculiar orientation of the maps of Dante's time. 
The "river" has its source and course along a line running almost 
exactly northwest from Florence. San Benedetto dell'Alpe is a 
small monastery situated on that line about twenty-five miles from 

106. THE CORD. As might be expected many ingenious expla- 
nations have been advanced to account for the sudden appearance of 
this cord. It is frequently claimed, but without proof, that Dante had 
been a minor friar of the Franciscans but had left without taking 
vows. The explanation continues that he had clung to the habit of 
wearing the white cord of the Franciscans, which he now produces 
with the information that he had once intended to use it to snare the 

Canto XVI 133 

One invention is probably as good as another. What seems obvi- 
ous is that the narrative required some sort of device for signaling 
the monster, and that to meet his narrative need, Dante suddenly 
invented the business of the cord. Dante, as a conscientious and self- 
analytical craftsman, would certainly have been aware of the techni- 
cal weakness of this sudden invention; but Dante the Master was 
sufficiently self-assured to brush aside one such detail, sure as he 
must have been of the strength of his total structure. 

Canto XVII 

circle seven: round three The Violent Against 


The monstrous shape lands on the brink and Virgil salutes it 
ironically. It is GERYON \ the MONSTER OF FRAUD. Virgil 
announces that they must fly down from the cliff on the back 
of this monster. While Virgil negotiates for their passage, 
Dante is sent to examine the USURERS (The Violent against 

These sinners sit in a crouch along the edge of the burning 
plain that approaches the cliff. Each of them has a leather 
purse around his neck, and each purse is blazoned with a 
coat of arms. Their eyes, gushing with tears, are forever fixed 
on these purses. Dante recognizes none of these sinners, but 
their coats of arms are unmistakably those of well-known 
Florentine families. 

Having understood who they are and the reason for their 
present condition, Dante cuts short his excursion and returns 
to find Virgil mounted on the back of Geryon. Dante joins his 
Master and they fly down from the great cliff. 

Their flight carries them from the Hell of the VIOLENT 
AND THE BESTIAL (The Sins of the Lion) into the Hell of 

"Now see the sharp tailed beast that mounts the brink. 
He passes mountains, breaks through walls and weapons. 
Behold the beast that makes the whole world stink." 


Canto XVII 135 

These were the words my Master spoke to me; 

then signaled the weird beast to come to ground 5 

close to the sheer end of our rocky levee. 

The filthy prototype of Fraud drew near 

and settled his head and breast upon the edge 
of the dark cliff, but let his tail hang clear. 

His face was innocent of every guile, 1 

benign and just in feature and expression; 
and under it his body was half reptile. 

His two great paws were hairy to the armpits; 
all his back and breast and both his flanks 
were figured with bright knots and subtle circlets: 1 5 

never was such a tapestry of bloom 
woven on earth by Tartar or by Turk, 
nor by Arachne at her flowering loom. 

As a ferry sometimes lies along the strand, 

part beached and part afloat; and as the beaver, 20 

up yonder in the guzzling Germans' land, 

squats halfway up the bank when a fight is on — 
just so lay that most ravenous of beasts 
on the rim which bounds the burning sand with stone. 

His tail twitched in the void beyond that lip, 25 

thrashing, and twisting up the envenomed fork 
which, like a scorpion's stinger, armed the tip. 

My Guide said: "It is time now we drew near 
that monster." And descending on the right 
we moved ten paces outward to be clear 30 

of sand and flames. And when we were beside him, 
I saw upon the sand a bit beyond us 
some people crouching close beside the brim. 

136 The Inferno 

The Master paused. "That you may take with you 

the full experience of this round," he said, 35 

"go now and see the last state of that crew. 

But let your talk be brief, and I will stay 
and reason with this beast till you return, 
that his strong back may serve us on our way." 

So further yet along the outer edge 40 

of the seventh circle I moved on alone. 
And came to the sad people of the ledge. 

Their eyes burst with their grief; their smoking hands 
jerked about their bodies, warding off 
now the flames and now the burning sands. 45 

Dogs in summer bit by fleas and gadflies, 
jerking their snouts about, twitching their paws 
now here, now there, behave no otherwise. 

I examined several faces there among 

that sooty throng, and I saw none I knew; 50 

but I observed that from each neck there hung 

an enormous purse, each marked with its own beast 
and its own colors like a coat of arms. 
On these their streaming eyes appeared to feast. 

Looking about, I saw one purse display 55 

azure on or, a kind of lion; another, 
on a blood red field, a goose whiter than whey. 

And one that bore a huge and swollen sow 
azure ofi field argent said to me: 
"What are you doing in this pit of sorrow? 60 

Leave us alone! And since you have not yet died, 
I'll have you know my neighbor Vitaliano 
has a place reserved for him here at my side. 

Canto XVII 137 

A Paduan among Florentines, I sit here 

while hour by hour they nearly deafen me 65 

shouting: 'Send us the sovereign cavalier 

with the purse of the three goats!'" He half arose, 
twisted his mouth, and darted out his tongue 
for all the world like an ox licking its nose. 

And I, afraid that any longer stay 70 

would anger him who had warned me to be brief, 
left those exhausted souls without delay. 

Returned, I found my Guide already mounted 
upon the rump of that monstrosity. 
He said to me: "Now must you be undaunted: 75 

this beast must be our stairway to the pit: 
mount it in front, and I will ride between 
you and the tail, lest you be poisoned by it." 

Like one so close to the quartanary chill 

that his nails are already pale and his flesh trembles 80 
at the very sight of shade or a cool rill — 

so did I tremble at each frightful word. 

But his scolding filled me with that shame that makes 
the servant brave in the presence of his lord. 

I mounted the great shoulders of that freak 85 

and tried to say "Now help me to hold on!" 
But my voice clicked in my throat and I could not speak. 

But no sooner had I settled where he placed me 
than he, my stay, my comfort, and my courage 
in other perils, gathered and embraced me. 90 

Then he called out: "Now, Geryon, we are ready: 
bear well in mind that his is living weight 
and make your circles wide and your flight steady." 

1 38 The Inferno 

As a small ship slides from a beaching or its pier, 

backward, backward — so that monster slipped 95 

back from the rim. And when he had drawn clear 

he swung about, and stretching out his tail 
he worked it like an eel, and with his paws 
he gathered in the air, while I turned pale. 

I think there was no greater fear the day 1 00 

Phaethon let loose the reins and burned the sky 
along the great scar of the Milky Way, 

nor when Icarus, too close to the sun's track 
felt the wax melt, unfeathering his loins, 
and heard his father cry, "Turn back! Turn back!" — 105 

than I felt when I found myself in air, 
afloat in space with nothing visible 
but the enormous beast that bore me there. 

Slowly, slowly, he swims on through space, 
wheels and descends, but I can sense it only 1 10 

by the way the wind blows upward past my face. 

Already on the right I heard the swell 

and thunder of the whirlpool. Looking down 
I leaned my head out and stared into Hell. 

I trembled again at the prospect of dismounting 115 

and cowered in on myself, for I saw fires 
on every hand, and I heard a long lamenting. 

And then I saw — till then I had but felt it — 
the course of our down-spiral to the horrors 
thai rose to us from all sides of the pit. 1 20 

As a flight- worn falcon sinks down wearily 
though neither bird nor lure has signalled it, 
the falconer crying out: "What! spent already!" — 

Canto XVII 139 

then turns and in a hundred spinning gyres 

sulks from her master's call, sullen and proud — 1 25 

so to that bottom lit by endless fires 

the monster Geryon circled and fell, 

setting us down at the foot of the precipice 
of ragged rock on the eighth shelf of Hell. 

And once freed of our weight, he shot from there 1 30 

into the dark like an arrow into air. 


1. GERYON. A mythical king of Spain represented as a giant 
with three heads and three bodies. He was killed by Hercules, who 
coveted the king's cattle. A later tradition represents him as killing 
and robbing strangers whom he lured into his realm. It is probably 
on this account that Dante chose him as the prototype of fraud, 
though in a radically altered bodily form. Some of the details of 
Dante's Geryon may be drawn from Revelations, ix, 9-20, but most 
of them are almost certainly his own invention: a monster with the 
general shape of a dragon but with the tail of a scorpion, hairy arms, 
a gaudily-marked reptilian body, and the face of a just and honest 
man. The careful reader will note that the gaudily-spotted body sug- 
gests the Leopard; the hairy paws, the Lion; and that the human face 
represents the essentially human nature of Fraud, which thus em- 
bodies corruption of the Appetite, of the Will, and of the Intellect. 

17. Tartar . . . Turk: These were the most skilled weavers of 
Dante's time. 

18. Arachne: She was so famous as a spinner and weaver that she 
challenged Minerva to a weaving contest. There are various ac- 
counts of what" happened in the contest, but all of them end with the 
goddess so moved to anger that she changed Arachne into a spider. 

20. the beaver: Dante's description of the beaver is probably 
drawn from some old bestiary or natural history. It may be based on 
the medieval belief that the beaver fished by crouching on the bank, 
scooping the fish out with its tail. 

140 The Inferno 

21. the guzzling Germans: The heavy drinking of the Germans 
was proverbial in the Middle Ages and far back into antiquity. 

29. descending on the right: The Poets had crossed on the right 
bank of the rill. In the course of Geryon's flight they will be carried 
to the other side of the falls, thus continuing their course to the left. 
It should be noted that inside the walls of Dis, approaching the sec- 
ond great division of Hell (as here the third) they also moved to the 
right. No satisfactory reason can be given for these exceptions. 

33. some people: The Usurers. Virgil explains in Canto XI why 
they sin against Art, which is the Grandchild of God. They are the 
third and final category of the Violent against God and His works. 

56. azure on or, a kind of lion: The arms of the Gianfigliazzi 
(Djahn-fee-LYAH-tsee) of Florence were a lion azure on a field of 
gold. The sinner bearing this purse must be Catello di Rosso Gian- 
figliazzi, who set up as a usurer in France and was made a knight on 
his return to Florence. 

51 .on a blood red field, a goose whiter than whey: A white goose 
on a red field was the arms of the noble Ghibelline family of the 
Ubriachi, or Ebriachi, of Florence. The wearer is probably Ciappo 
Ubriachi (CHAH-poe Oob-ree-AH-kee), a notorious usurer. 

58-59. sow azure on field argent: These are the arms of the 
Scrovegni (Skroe-VAY-nyee) of Padua. The bearer is probably Regi- 
naldo Scrovegni. 

62. Vitaliano: Vitaliano di Iacopo Vitaliani, another Paduan. 

66-67. the sovereign cavalier: Giovanni di Buiamonte (Djoe- 
VAHN-ee dee Boo-yah-MON-teh) was esteemed in Florence as 
"the sovereign cavalier" and was chosen for many high offices. He 
was a usurer and a gambler who lost great sums at play. Dante's in- 
tent is clearly to bewail the decay of standards which permits Flor- 
ence to honor so highly a man for whom Hell is waiting so dismally. 
Buiamonte was of the Becchi (BEH-kee) family whose arms were 
three black goats on a gold field. "Becchi" in Italian is the plural 
form of the word for "goat." 

79. quartanary chill: Quartan fever is an ague that runs a four- 
day cycle with symptoms roughly like those of malaria. At the ap- 

Canto XV U 141 

proach of the chill, Dante intends his figure to say, any thought of 
coolness strikes terror into the shivering victim. 

101. Phaethon: Son of Apollo who drove the chariot of the sun. 
Phaethon begged his father for a chance to drive the chariot himself 
but he lost control of the horses and Zeus killed him with a thunder- 
bolt for fear the whole earth would catch fire. The scar left in the sky 
by the runaway horses is marked by the Milky Way. 

103. Icarus: Daedalus, the father of Icarus, made wings for him- 
self and his son and they flew into the sky, but Icarus, ignoring his 
father's commands, flew too close to the sun. The heat melted the 
wax with which the wings were fastened and Icarus fell into the 
Aegean and was drowned. 

121-125. flight-worn falcon: Falcons, when sent aloft, were 
trained to circle until sighting a bird, or until signaled back by the 
lure (a stuffed bird). Flight-weary, Dante's metaphoric falcon sinks 
bit by bit, rebelling against his training and sulking away from his 
master in wide slow circles. The weighed, slow, downward flight of 
Geryon is powerfully contrasted with his escaping bound into the 
air once he has deposited his burden. 

Canto XVIII 

circle eight (malebolge) The Fraudulent and 

bolgia one The Panderers and Seducers 

bolgia two The Flatterers 

Dismounted from Geryon, the Poets find themselves in the 
EIGHTH CIRCLE, called MALEBOLGE (The Evil Ditches). 
This is the upper half of the HELL OF THE FRA UDULENT 
AND MALICIOUS. Malebolge is a great circle of stone that 
slopes like an amphitheater The slopes are divided into ten 
concentric ditches; and within these ditches, each with his 
own kind, are punished those guilty of SIMPLE FRA UD. 

A series of stone dikes runs like spokes from the edge of the 
great cliff face to the center of the place, and these serve as 

The Poets bear left toward the first ditch, and Dante ob- 
serves below him and to his right the sinners of the first bol- 
gia, The PANDERERS and SEDUCERS. These make two 
files, one along either bank of the ditch, and are driven at 
an endless fast walk by horned demons who hurry them 
along with great lashes. In life these sinners goaded others 
on to serve their own foul purposes; so in Hell are they 
driven in their turn. The horned demons who drive them sym- 
bolize the sinners' own vicious natures, embodiments of 
their own guilty consciences. Dante may or may not have in- 
tended the horns of the demons to symbolize cuckoldry and 

in the first pit, and pass on to the second, where they find 
the souls of the FLATTERERS sunk in excrement, the true 


144 The Inferno 

equivalent of their false flatteries on earth. They observe 

There is in Hell a vast and sloping ground 
called Malebolge, a lost place of stone 
as black as the great cliff that seals it round. 

Precisely in the center of that space 

there yawns a well extremely wide and deep. 5 

I shall discuss it in its proper place. 

The border that remains between the well-pit 
and the great cliff forms an enormous circle, 
and ten descending troughs are cut in it, 

offering a general prospect like the ground 10 

that lies around one of those ancient castles 
whose walls are girded many times around 

by concentric moats. And just as, from the portal, 
the castle's bridges run from moat to moat 
to the last bank; so from the great rock wall 15 

across the embankments and the ditches, high 
and narrow cliffs run to the central well, 
which cuts and gathers them like radii. 

Here, shaken from the back of Geryon, 

we found ourselves. My Guide kept to the left 20 

and I walked after him. So we moved on. 

Below, on my right, and filling the first ditch 
along both banks, new souls in pain appeared, 
new lormcnts. and new devils black as pitch. 

All oi' these sinners were naked; on our side 25 

of the middle they walked toward us; on the other, 
in our direction, but with swifter stride. 

Canto XVf/I 145 

Just so the Romans, because of the great throng 
in the year of the Jubilee, divide the bridge 
in order that the crowds may pass along, 30 

so that all face the Castle as they go 

on one side toward St. Peter's, while on the other, 
all move along facing toward Mount Giordano. 

And everywhere along that hideous track 

I saw horned demons with enormous lashes 35 

move through those souls, scourging them on the back. 

Ah, how the stragglers of that long rout stirred 
their legs quick-march at the first crack of the lash ! 
Certainly no one waited for a second, or third! 

As we went on, one face in that procession 40 

caught my eye and I said: "That sinner there: 
It is certainly not the first time I've seen that one." 

I stopped, therefore, to study him, and my Guide 
out of his kindness waited, and even allowed me 
to walk back a few steps at the sinner's side. 45 

And that flayed spirit, seeing me turn around, 
thought to hide his face, but I called to him: 
"You there, that walk along with your eyes on the ground — 

if those are not false features, then I know you 

as Venedico Caccianemico of Bologna: 50 

what brings you here among this pretty crew?" 

And he replied: "I speak unwillingly, 

but something in your living voice, in which 
I hear the world again, stirs and compels me. 

It was I who brought the fair Ghisola 'round 55 

to serve the will and lust of the Marquis, 
however sordid that old tale may sound. 

„ 46 The Inferno 

There are many more from Bologna who weep away 
eternity in this ditch; we fill it so 
there are not as many tongues that are taught to say 60 

'sipa' in all the land that lies between 
the Reno and the Saveno, as you must know 
from the many tales of our avarice and spleen." 

And as he spoke, one of those lashes fell 

across his back, and a demon cried, "Move on, 65 

you pimp, there are no women here to sell." 

Turning away then, I rejoined my Guide. 
We came in a few steps to a raised ridge 
that made a passage to the other side. 

This we climbed easily, and turning right 70 

along the jagged crest, we left behind 
the eternal circling of those souls in flight. 

And when we reached the part at which the stone 
was tunneled for the passage of the scourged, 
my Guide said, "Stop a minute and look down 75 

on these other misbegotten wraiths of sin. 
You have not seen their faces, for they moved 
in the same direction we were headed in." 

So from that bridge we looked down on the throng 

that hurried toward us on the other side. 80 

Here, too, the whiplash hurried them along. 

And the good Master, studying that train, 

said: "Look there, at that great soul that approaches 
and seems to shed no tears for all his pain — 

what kingliness moves with him even in Hell ! 85 

It is Jason, who by courage and good advice 
made off with the Colchian Ram. Later it fell 

Canto XVIII 147 

that he passed Lemnos, where the women of wrath, 
enraged by Venus' curse that drove their lovers 
out of their arms, put all their males to death. 90 

There with his honeyed tongue and his dishonest 
lover's wiles, he gulled Hypsipyle, 
who, in the slaughter, had gulled all the rest. 

And there he left her, pregnant and forsaken. 

Such guilt condemns him to such punishment; 95 

and also for Medea is vengeance taken. 

All seducers march here to the whip. 
And let us say no more about this valley 
and those it closes in its stony grip." 

We had already come to where the walk 1 00 

crosses the second bank, from which it lifts 
another arch, spanning from rock to rock. 

Here we heard people whine in the next chasm, 
and knock and thump themselves with open palms, 
and blubber through their snouts as if in a spasm. 1 05 

Steaming from that pit, a vapor rose 

over the banks, crusting them with a slime 

that sickened my eyes and hammered at my nose. 

That chasm sinks so deep we could not sight 

its bottom anywhere until we climbed 1 1 

along the rock arch to its greatest height. 

Once there, I peered down; and I saw long lines 
of people in a river of excrement 
that seemed the overflow of the world's latrines. 

I saw among the felons of that pit 115 

one wraith who might or might not have been tonsured — 
one could not tell, he was so smeared with shit. 

148 The Inferno 

He bellowed: "You there, why do you stare at me 
more than at all the others in this stew?" 
And I to him: "Because if memory 1 20 

serves me, I knew you when your hair was dry. 
You are Alessio Interminelli da Lucca. 
That's why I pick you from this filthy fry." 

And he then, beating himself on his clown's head: 

"Down to this have the flatteries I sold 1 25 

the living sunk me here among the dead." 

And my Guide prompted then: "Lean forward a bit 
and look beyond him, there — do you see that one 
scratching herself with dungy nails, the strumpet 

who fidgets to her feet, then to a crouch? 1 30 

It is the whore Thai's who told her lover 
when he sent to ask her, 'Do you thank me much?' 

'Much? Nay, past all believing!' And with this 
let us turn from the sight of this abyss." 


2. Malebolge: Bolgia (BOWL-djah) in Italian equals "ditch" or 
"pouch." That combination of meanings is not possible in a single 
English word, but it is well to bear in mind that Dante intended both 
meanings: not only a ditch of evil, but a pouch full of it, a filthy trea- 
sure of ill-gotten souls. 

5. a well: This is the final pit of Hell, and in it are punished the 
Treacherous (those Guilty of Compound Fraud). Cantos XXIX- 
XXXIV will deal with this part of Hell. 

22. below, on my right: (See diagram.) The Poets have, as usual, 
borne left from the point where Geryon left them. They are walking 
along the outer ridge of the first bolgia, and the sinners are below 
them on the right. The Panderers are walking toward them along the 
near bank; the Seducers are walking the other way (i.e., in the same 

Canto XV111 149 

direction as the Poets) along the far hank. Dante places the Seducers 
closer to the center of Hell, thereby indicating that their sin is ii 
shade worse than that of the Panderers. It is difficult to sec- wh\ 
Dante should think so, but since both receive exactly the same pun- 
ishment, the distinction is more or less academic. 

28-33. Boniface VIII had proclaimed 1300 a Jubilee Year, and 
consequently throngs of pilgrims had come to Rome. Since the date 
of the vision is also 1300, the Roman throngs are moving hack and 
forth across the Tiber via Ponte Castello Sant' Angelo at the ver\ 
time Dante is watching the sinners in Hell. 

47. thought to hide his face: The general rule of the sinners above 
the great barrier cliff has been a great willingness— in fact, an eager- 
ness — to make themselves known and to be remembered in the 
world. From this point to the bottom of Hell that rule is reversed. 
and the sinners, with a few exceptions, try to conceal their identity, 
asking only to be forgotten. This change should be noted as one 
more evidence of Dante's architectural sense of detail: this exploita- 
tion of many interrelated themes and their progression from point to 
point of the great journey give the poem its symphonic and many- 
leveled richness. 

50. Venedico Caccianemico (Ven-AID-ee-coe Kah-tchah-neh- 
MEE-coe): A nobleman of Bologna. To win the favor of the Marquis 
Obbizo da Este of Ferrara, Caccianemico acted as the procurer of 
his own sister Ghisola, called 'la bella" or "Ghisolabella." 

61. sipa: Bolognese dialect for "si," i.e., "yes." Bologna lies be- 
tween the Savena and the Reno. This is a master taunt at Bologna as 
a city of panderers and seducers, for it clearly means that the Bolo- 
gnese then living on earth were fewer in number than the Bolognese 
dead who had been assigned to this bolgia. 

70. turning right: See diagram. 

83-96. Jason: Leader of the Argonauts. He carried off the 
Colchian Ram {i.e., The Golden Fleece). "The good advice" that 
helped him win the fleece was given by Medea, daughter of the 
King of Colchis, whom Jason took with him and later abandoned for 
Creusa. ("Also for Medea is vengeance taken.") In the course of his 
very Grecian life, Jason had previously seduced Hypsipyle and de- 
serted her to continue his voyage after the fleece. She was one of the 


The Inferno 


women' of Lemnos whom Aphrodite, because they no longer wor- 
shiped her, cursed with a foul smell which made them unbearable to 
their husbands and lovers. The women took their epic revenge by 
banding together to kill all their males, but Hypsipyle managed to 
save her father, King Thoas, by pretending to the women that she 
had already killed him. 


It should be noted as characteristic of Dante's style that he delib- 
erately coarsens his language when he wishes to describe certain 
kinds of coarseness. The device has earned Dante the title of "mas- 
ter of the disgusting." It may well be added that what is disgusting in 
the Victorian drawing-room may be the essential landscape of Hell. 
Among the demons who guard the grafters (Cantos XXI-XXII), 
and among the sowers of discord (Canto XXVIII), Dante reinvokes 
the same gargoyle quality. It would be ridiculous prudery to refine 
Dante's diction at these points. 

Canto XVIII 151 

122. Alessio Interminelli da Lucca (In-ter-min-ELL-ee): One of 
the noble family oi the Interminelli or Interminei, a prominent 
White family of Lucca. About all that is known of Alessio Is the fact 
that he was still alive in 1295. 

131. Thais: The flattery uttered by Thais is put into her mouth by 
Terence in his Eunuchus (Act III, 1 : 1-2). Thais' lover had sent her a 
slave, and later sent a servant to ask if she thanked him much. Man- 
nas vero agere gratias Thais mihi? The servant reported her as an- 
swering Ingentes! Cicero later commented on the passage as an 
example of immoderate flattery, and Dante's conception of Thais 
probably springs from this source. (De Amicitia, 26.) 

Canto XIX 

circle eight: bolgia three The Simoniacs 

Dante comes upon the SIMONIACS (sellers of ecclesiastic 
favors and offices) and his heart overflows with the wrath he 
feels against those who corrupt the things of God. This bolgia 
is lined with round tube-like holes and the sinners are placed 
in them upside down with the soles of their feet ablaze. The 
heat of the blaze is proportioned to their guilt. 

The holes in which these sinners are placed are debased 
equivalents of the baptismal fonts common in the cities of North- 
ern Italy and the sinners* confinement in them is temporary: as 
new sinners arrive, the souls drop through the bottoms of their 
holes and disappear eternally into the crevices of the rock. 

As always, the punishment is a symbolic retribution. Just as 
the Simoniacs made a mock of holy office, so are they turned up- 
side down in a mockery of the baptismal font. Just as they made a 
mockery of the holy water of baptism, so is their hellish baptism 
by fire, after which they are wholly immersed in the crevices be- 
low. The oily fire that licks at their soles may also suggest a trav- 
esty on the oil used in Extreme Unction (last rites for the dying). 

Virgil carries Dante down an almost sheer ledge and lets 
him speak to one who is the chief sinner of that place, POPE 
NICHOLAS III Dante delivers himself of another stirring denun- 
ciation of those who have corrupted church office, and Virgil car- 
ries him back up the steep ledge toward the FOURTH BOLGIA. 

O Simon Magus! O you wretched crew 

who follow him, pandering for silver and gold 
the things of God which should be wedded to 


Canto XIX 153 

love and righteousness! O thieves for hire, 

now must the trump of judgment sound your doom 5 

here in the third fosse of the rim of fire ! 

We had already made our way across 

to the next grave, and to that part of the bridge 
which hangs above the mid-point of the fosse. 

Sovereign Wisdom, how Thine art doth shine 10 
in Heaven, on Earth, and in the Evil World! 

How justly doth Thy power judge and assign! 

1 saw along the walls and on the ground 

long rows of holes cut in the livid stone; 

all were cut to a size, and all were round. 1 5 

They seemed to be exactly the same size 

as those in the font of my beautiful San Giovanni, 
built to protect the priests who come to baptize; 

(one of which, not so long since, I broke open 
to rescue a boy who was wedged and drowning in it. 20 
Be this enough to undeceive all men). 

From every mouth a sinner's legs stuck out 
as far as the calf. The soles were all ablaze 
and the joints of the legs quivered and writhed about. 

Withes and tethers would have snapped in their throes. 25 
As oiled things blaze upon the surface only, 
so did they burn from the heels to the points of their toes. 

"Master," I said, "who is that one in the fire 

who writhes and quivers more than all the others? 

From him the ruddy flames seem to leap higher." 30 

And he to me: "If you wish me to carry you down 
along that lower bank, you may learn from him 
who he is, and the evil he has done." 

154 The Inferno 

And I: "What you will, I will. You are my lord 

and know I depart in nothing from your wish; 35 

and you know my mind beyond my spoken word." 

We moved to the fourth ridge, and turning left 
my Guide descended by a jagged path 
into the strait and perforated cleft. 

Thus the good Master bore me down the dim 40 

and rocky slope, and did not put me down 
till we reached the one whose legs did penance for him. 

"Whoever you are, sad spirit," I began, 

"who lie here with your head below your heels 

and planted like a stake — speak if you can." 45 

I stood like a friar who gives the sacrament 
to a hired assassin, who, fixed in the hole, 
recalls him, and delays his death a moment. 

"Are you there already, Boniface? Are you there 

already?" he cried. "By several years the writ 50 

has lied. And all that gold, and all that care — 

are you already sated with the treasure 

for which you dared to turn on the Sweet Lady 
and trick and pluck and bleed her at your pleasure?" 

I stood like one caught in some raillery, 55 

not understanding what is said to him, 
lost for an answer to such mockery. 

Then Virgil said, "Say to him: T am not he, 
I am not who you think.' " And I replied 
as my good Master had instructed me. 60 

The sinner's feet jerked madly; then again 

his voice rose, this time choked with sighs and tears, 
and said at last: "What do you want of me then? 

Canto XIX 155 

If to know who I am drives you so fearfully 

that you descend the bank to ask it, know 65 

that the Great Mantle was once hung upon me. 

And in truth I was a son of the She-Bear, 
so sly and eager to push my whelps ahead, 
that I pursed wealth above, and myself here. 

Beneath my head are dragged all who have gone 70 

before me in buying and selling holy office; 
there they cower in fissures of the stone. 

I too shall be plunged down when that great cheat 
for whom I took you comes here in his turn. 
Longer already have I baked my feet 75 

and been planted upside-down, than he shall be 
before the west sends down a lawless Shepherd 
of uglier deeds to cover him and me. 

He will be a new Jason of the Maccabees; 

and just as that king bent to his high priests' will, 80 

so shall the French king do as this one please." 

Maybe — I cannot say — I grew too brash 

at this point, for when he had finished speaking 
I said: "Indeed! Now tell me how much cash 

our Lord required of Peter in guarantee 85 

before he put the keys into his keeping? 
Surely he asked nothing but 'Follow me!' 

Nor did Peter, nor the others, ask silver or gold 
of Matthias when they chose him for the place 
the despicable and damned apostle sold. 90 

Therefore stay as you are; this hole well fits you — 
and keep a good guard on the ill-won wealth 
that once made you so bold toward Charles of Anjou. 

156 The Inferno 

And were it not that I am still constrained 

by the reverence I owe to the Great Keys 95 

you held in life, I should not have refrained 

from using other words and sharper still; 

for this avarice of yours grieves all the world, 
tramples the virtuous, and exalts the evil. 

Of such as you was the Evangelist's vision 100 

when he saw She Who Sits upon the Waters 
locked with the Kings of earth in fornication. 

She was born with seven heads, and ten enormous 
and shining horns strengthened and made her glad 
as long as love and virtue pleased her spouse. 105 

Gold and silver are the gods you adore! 
In what are you different from the idolator, 
save that he worships one, and you a score? 

Ah Constantine, what evil marked the hour — 

not of your conversion, but of the fee 110 

the first rich Father took from you in dower!" 

And as I sang him this tune, he began to twitch 
and kick both feet out wildly, as if in rage 
or gnawed by conscience — little matter which. 

And I think, indeed, it pleased my Guide: his look 115 

was all approval as he stood beside me 
intent upon each word of truth I spoke. 

He approached, and with both arms he lifted me, 
and when he had gathered me against his breast, 
remounted the rocky path out of the valley, 120 

nor did he tire of holding me clasped to him, 
until we reached the topmost point of the arch 
which crosses from the fourth to the fifth rim 

Canto XIX J 57 

of the pits of woe. Arrived upon the bridge, 

he tenderly set down the heavy burden 125 

he had been pleased to carry up that ledge 

which would have been hard climbing for a goat. 
Here I looked down on still another moat. 


I. Simon Magus: Simon the Samarian magician (see Acts, viii, 
9-24) from whom the word "Simony" derives. Upon his conversion 
to Christianity he offered to buy the power to administer the Holy 
Ghost and was severely rebuked by Peter. 

8. the next grave: The next bolgia. 

8. that part of the bridge: The center point. The center of each 
span is obviously the best observation point. 

II. Evil World: Hell. 

17-18. the font of my beautiful San Giovanni: It was the custom 
in Dante's time to baptize only on Holy Saturday and on Pentecost. 
These occasions were naturally thronged, therefore, and to protect 
the priests a special font was built in the Baptistry of San Giovanni 
with marble stands for the priests, who were thus protected from 
both the crowds and the water in which they immersed those to be 
baptized. The Baptistry is still standing, but the font is no longer in 
it. A similar font still exists, however, in the Baptistry at Pisa. 

19-21. In these lines Dante is replying to a charge of sacrilege that 
had been rumored against him. One day a boy playing in the baptismal 
font became jammed in the marble tube and could not be extricated. To 
save the boy from drowning, Dante took it upon himself to smash the 
tube. This is his answer to all men on the charge of sacrilege. 

29. more than all the others: The fire is proportioned to the guilt 
of the sinner. These are obviously the feet of the chief sinner of this 
bolgia. In a moment we shall discover that he is Pope Nicholas III. 

46-47. like a friar, etc.: Persons convicted of murdering for hire 
were sometimes executed by being buried alive upside down. If the 

158 The Inferno 

friar were called back at the last moment, he should have to bend 
over the hole in which the man is fixed upside down awaiting the 
first shovelful of earth. 

POPE NICHOLAS III. Giovanni Gaetano degli Orsini, Pope 
from 1 277-1 280. His presence here is self-explanatory. He is await- 
ing the arrival of his successor, Boniface VIII, who will take his 
place in the stone tube and who will in turn be replaced by Clement 
V, a Pope even more corrupt than Boniface. With the foresight of the 
damned he had read the date of Boniface's death ( 1 303) in the Book 
of Fate. Mistaking Dante for Boniface, he thinks his foresight has 
erred by three years, since it is now 1300. 

66. the Great Mantle: of the Papacy. 

67. son of the She-Bear: Nicholas' family name, degli Orsini, 
means in Italian "of the bear cubs." 

69. pursed: A play on the second meaning of bolgia {i.e., 
"purse"). "Just as I put wealth in my purse when alive, so am I put in 
this foul purse now that I am dead." 

77-79. a lawless Shepherd . . . Jason of the Maccabees . . . the 
French King: The reference is to Clement V, Pope from 1305 to 
1 3 14. He came from Gascony (the West) and was involved in many 
intrigues with the King of France. It was Clement V who moved the 
Papal See to Avignon where it remained until 1377. He is compared 
to Jason (see Maccabees, iv, 7 ff.) who bought an appointment as 
High Priest of the Jews from King Antiochus and thereupon intro- 
duced pagan and venal practices into the office in much the same 
way as Clement used his influence with Philip of France to secure 
and corrupt his high office. 

Clement will succeed Boniface in Hell because Boniface's suc- 
cessor, Bcnedictus XI (1303-1304), was a good and holy man. The 
terms each guilty Pope must serve in this hellish baptism are: 

Nicholas III 1280-1303 
(four good Popes intervene) 

Boniface VIII 1303-1314 
(one good Pope intervenes) 

Clement V 1314 — not stated 

Canto XIX 159 

88-89. nor did Peter . . . of Matthias: Upon the expulsion of Ju- 
das from the band of Apostles, Matthias was chosen in his place. 

93. Charles ofAnjou: The seventh son of Louis VIII of France. 
Charles became King of Naples and of Sicily largely through the 
good offices of Pope Urban IV and later of Clement IV. Nicholas III 
withdrew the high favor his predecessors had shown Charles, but 
the exact nature and extent of his opposition are open to dispute. 
Dante probably believed, as did many of his contemporaries, that 
Nicholas instigated the massacre called the Sicilian Vespers, in 
which the Sicilians overthrew the rule of Charles and held a general 
slaughter of the French who had been their masters. The Sicilian 
Vespers, however, was a popular and spontaneous uprising, and it 
did not occur until Nicholas had been dead for two years. 

Dante may have erred in interpreting the Sicilian question, but 
his point is indisputably clear when he laments the fact that simoni- 
acally acquired wealth had involved the Papacy in war and political 
intrigue, thereby perverting it from its spiritual purpose. 

95. the Great Keys: of the Papacy. 

100-105. the Evangelist . . . She Who Sits upon the Waters: St. 
John the Evangelist. His vision of She Who Sits upon the Waters is 
set forth in Revelations, xvii. The Evangelist intended it as a vision 
of Pagan Rome, but Dante interprets it as a vision of the Roman 
Church in its simoniacal corruption. The seven heads are the seven 
sacraments; the ten horns, the ten commandments. 

109-1 1 1 . Ah Constantine, etc.: The first rich Father was Silvester 
(Pope from 314 to 355). Before him the Popes possessed nothing, 
but when Constantine was converted and Catholicism became the 
official religion of the Empire, the Church began to acquire wealth. 
Dante and the scholars of his time believed, according to a docu- 
ment called "The Donation of Constantine," that the Emperor had 
moved his Empire to the East in order to leave sovereignty of the 
West to the Church. The document was not shown to be a forgery 
until the fifteenth century. Knowledge of the forgery would not, 
however, have altered Dante's view; he was unwavering in his be- 
lief that wealth was the greatest disaster that had befallen the 
Church, for in wealth lay the root of the corruption which Dante de- 
nounced so passionately. 

Canto XX 

circle eight: bolgia four The Fortune Tellers 

and Diviners 

Dante stands in the middle of the bridge over the FOURTH BOL- 
GIA and looks down at the souls of the FORTUNE TELLERS 
and DIVINERS. Here are the souls of all those who attempted 
by forbidden arts to look into the future. Among these damned 

Characteristically, the sin of these wretches is reversed 
upon them: their punishment is to have their heads turned 
backwards on their bodies and to be compelled to walk back- 
wards through all eternity, their eyes blinded with tears. 
Thus, those who sought to penetrate the future cannot even 
see in front of themselves; they attempted to move themselves 
forward in time, so must they go backwards through all eter- 
nity; and as the arts of sorcery are a distortion of God's law, 
so arc their bodies distorted in Hell. 

No more need be said of them: Dante names them, and 
on to fill the Canto with a lengthy account of the 
founding of Virgil s native city of Mantua. 

Nov* must I sing new griefs, and my verses strain 
to form the matter of the Twentieth Canto 
of Canticle One, the Canticle of Pain. 

My \ antage pomi permitted a clear view 
of the depths of the pit below: a desolation 
bathed with the tears o( its tormented crew, 


Canto XX 161 

who moved about the circle of the pit 
at about the pace of a litany procession. 
Silent and weeping, they wound round and round it. 

And when I looked down from their faces, I saw 10 

that each of them was hideously distorted 
between the top of the chest and the lines of the jaw; 

for the face was reversed on the neck, and they came on 
backwards, staring backwards at their loins, 
for to look before them was forbidden. Someone, 15 

sometime, in the grip of a palsy may have been 
distorted so, but never to my knowledge; 
nor do I believe the like was ever seen. 

Reader, so may God grant you to understand 

my poem and profit from it, ask yourself 20 

how I could check my tears, when near at hand 

I saw the image of our humanity 

distorted so that the tears that burst from their eyes 
ran down the cleft of their buttocks. Certainly 

I wept. I leaned against the jagged face 25 

of a rock and wept so that my Guide said: "Still? 
Still like the other fools? There is no place 

for pity here. Who is more arrogant 
within his soul, who is more impious 
than one who dares to sorrow at God's judgment? 30 

Lift up your eyes, lift up your eyes and see 

him the earth swallowed before all the Thebans, 
at which they cried out: 'Whither do you flee, 

Amphiareus? Why do you leave the field?' 

And he fell headlong through the gaping earth 35 

to the feet of Minos, where all sin must yield. 

162 The Inferno 

Observe how he has made a breast of his back. 
In life he wished to see too far before him, 
and now he must crab backwards round this track. 

And see Tiresias, who by his arts 40 

succeeded in changing himself from man to woman, 
transforming all his limbs and all his parts; 

later he had to strike the two twined serpents 
once again with his conjurer's wand before 
he could resume his manly lineaments. 45 

And there is Aruns, his back to that one's belly, 
the same who in the mountains of the Luni 
tilled by the people of Carrara's valley, 

made a white marble cave his den, and there 

with unobstructed view observed the sea 50 

and the turning constellations year by year. 

And she whose unbound hair flows back to hide 
her breasts — which you cannot see — and who also wears 
all of her hairy parts on that other side, 

was Manto, who searched countries far and near, 55 

then settled where I was born. In that connection 
there is a story I would have you hear. 

Tiresias was her sire. After his death, 

Thebes, the city of Bacchus, became enslaved, 

and for many years she roamed about the earth. 60 

High in sweet Italy, under the Alps that shut 
the Tyrolean gate of Germany, there lies 
a lake known as Benacus roundabout. 

Through endless falls, more than a thousand and one, 

Mount Apennine from Garda to Val Cammonica 65 

is freshened by the waters that flow down 

Canto XX J 63 

into that lake. At its center is a place 

where the Bishops of Brescia, Trentine, and Verona 
might all give benediction with equal grace. 

Peschiera, the beautiful fortress, strong in war 70 

against the Brescians and the Bergamese, 
sits at the lowest point along that shore. 

There, the waters Benacus cannot hold 
within its bosom, spill and form a river 
that winds away through pastures green and gold. 75 

But once the water gathers its full flow, 
it is called Mincius rather than Benacus 
from there to Governo, where it joins the Po. 

Still near its source, it strikes a plain, and there 

it slows and spreads, forming an ancient marsh 80 

which in the summer heats pollutes the air. 

The terrible virgin, passing there by chance, 
saw dry land at the center of the mire, 
untilled, devoid of all inhabitants. 

There, shunning all communion with mankind, 85 

she settled with the ministers of her arts, 
and there she lived, and there she left behind 

her vacant corpse. Later the scattered men 
who lived nearby assembled on that spot 
since it was well defended by the fen. 90 

Over those whited bones they raised the city, 

and for her who had chosen the place before all others 
they named it — with no further augury — 

Mantua. Far more people lived there once — 

before sheer madness prompted Casalodi 95 

to let Pinamonte play him for a dunce. 

164 The Inferno 

Therefore, I charge you, should you ever hear 
other accounts of this, to let no falsehood 
confuse the truth which I have just made clear." 

And I to him: "Master, within my soul 100 

your word is certainty, and any other 
would seem like the dead lumps of burned out coal. 

But tell me of those people moving down 
to join the rest. Are any worth my noting? 
For my mind keeps coming back to that alone." 105 

And he: "That one whose beard spreads like a fleece 
over his swarthy shoulders, was an augur 
in the days when so few males remained in Greece 

that even the cradles were all but empty of sons. 
He chose the time for cutting the cable at Aulis, 110 

and Calchas joined him in those divinations. 

He is Eurypylus. I sing him somewhere 

in my High Tragedy; you will know the place 
who know the whole of it. The other there, 

the one beside him with the skinny shanks 115 

was Michael Scott, who mastered every trick 
of magic fraud, a prince of mountebanks. 

See Guido Bonatti there; and see Asdente, 

who now would be wishing he had stuck to his last, 

but repents too late, though he repents aplenty. 1 20 

And see on every hand the wretched hags 

who left their spinning and sewing for soothsaying 
and casting of spells with herbs, and dolls, and rags. 

But come: Cain with his bush of thorns appears 

already on the wave below Seville, 125 

above the boundary of the hemispheres; 

Canto XX 165 

and the moon was full already yesternight, 
as you must well remember from the wood, 
for it certainly did not harm you when its light 

shone down upon your way before the dawn." 1 30 

And as he spoke to me, we traveled on. 



The rather long account of the origin of Mantua with which 
Dante fills up this Canto often prompts students to ask why he does 
not delete this "irrelevant account" in order to spend more time on 
the diviners. The answer to that question (it could be asked in con- 
nection with many other passages in the Commedia) points to the 
core of Dante's allegorical style. The fact is that once he has placed 
the diviners in their proper pit and assigned them an appropriate 
punishment, his essential allegorical function has been fulfilled: 
nothing more need be said. 

Thus, the structure carries all. Once the poem is under way, it is 
enough simply to name a man as being in a certain place in Hell suf- 
fering a certain punishment, and that man is not only located as pre- 
cisely as an x drawn on a map locates the point it marks, but the sin 
which that man typifies is located on the scale of value which is con- 
structed into the whole nature of the Universe as Dante saw it. 

The Poet is thereby left free to pass on to the discussion of all 
those matters of theology, history, politics, and "science" which fas- 
cinate him. But there is nothing "irrelevant" about these multiple 
interests. Dante's journey is "to experience all." He is not simply 
taking a long walk: he is constructing a Universe. As part of that 
construction, he reaches out to draw data from a variety of sources. 
These are not "data" in the scientific sense. Rather they are "typical" 
data: i.e., each of Dante's side discussions considers data that are 
central to its type: the history of Mantua relates to the history of 
Troy, to the history of Virgil, to the history of Rome, to the history 
of Florence. Moreover, the history of Mantua is excerpted as typical 
from the whole range of history (as if Dante were saying: "Thus are 
the States of man begun") to advance one of the great themes of the 
Commedia — the backgrounds of civilization as Dante knew it. 

J 66 The Inferno 

3. Canticle One: The Inferno. The other Canticles are, of course, 
The Purgatorio and The Paradiso. 

4. my vantage point: Virgil, it will be recalled, had set Dante 
down on the bridge across the Fourth Bolgia. 

8. at about the pace of a litany procession: The litanies are 
chanted not only in church (before the mass), but sometimes in pro- 
cession, the priest chanting the prayers and the marchers the re- 
sponse. As one might gather from the context, the processions move 
very slowly. 

10. And when I looked down from their faces: A typically Dan- 
tean conception. Dante often writes as if the eye pin-pointed on one 
feature of a figure seen at a distance. The pin-point must then be de- 
liberately shifted before the next feature can be observed. As far as I 
know, this stylistic device is peculiar to Dante. 

14. loins: General usage seems to have lost sight of the fact that 
the first meaning of "loin" is "that part of a human being or 
quadruped on either side of the spinal column between the hipbone 
and the false ribs." (Webster) 

23-24. tears . . . ran down the cleft of their buttocks: Since the 
heads of these sinners are backwards on their necks, their tears 
would run down their backs, and this is the obvious track they must 
follow. But what a debasement of sorrow! This is the sort of detail 
Dante knew how to use with maximum effect. 

worth noting that Virgil has not scolded Dante for showing pity in 
earlier cases, though he might easily have done so and for exactly 
the same reason. One interpretation may be that Dante was not yet 
ready to recognize the true nature of evil. Another may be that Hu- 
man Reason (despite Dante's earlier reference to his "all-knowing 
Master ,, ) is essentially fallible. Beatrice, a higher creature, is so 
made that she is incapable of being moved by the creatures of Hell 
(see Canto II), as is the Divine Messenger who springs open the 
Gates ofDis (Canto IX). 

34. Amphiareus: Another of the seven Captains who fought 
against Thebes (v. Capaneus, Canto XIV). Statius (Thebaid, VII, 
690 ff. and VIII, 8 ff.) tells how he foresaw his own death in this 

Canto XX 167 

war, and attempted to run away from it, but was swallowed in 
his flight by an earthquake. I have Romanized his name from 

40. Tiresias: A Theban diviner and magician. Ovid (Metamor- 
phoses, III) tells how he came on two twined serpents, struck them 
apart with his stick, and was thereupon transformed into a woman. 
Seven years later he came on two serpents similarly entwined, 
struck them apart, and was changed back. 

46-48. Aruns: An Etruscan soothsayer (see Lucan, Pharsalia, I, 
580 ff.). He foretold the war between Pompey and Julius Caesar, 
and also that it would end with Caesar's victory and Pompey 's 
death. Luni: Also Luna. An ancient Etruscan city. Carrara 's valley: 
The Carrarese valley is famous for its white (Carrara) marble. 

46. that one 's: Tiresias. 

55. Manto: The text is self-explanatory. Dante's version of the 
founding of Mantua is based on a reference in the Aeneid, X, 

63 ff. Benacus: The ancient name for the famous Lago di Garda, 
which lies a short distance north of Mantua. The other places named 
in this passage lie around Lago di Garda. On an island in the lake the 
three dioceses mentioned in line 68 conjoined. All three bishops, 
therefore, had jurisdiction on the island. 

95-96. Casalodi . . . Pinamonte: Albert, Count of Casalodi and 
Lord of Mantua, let himself be persuaded by Pinamonte de Buonac- 
corsi to banish the nobles from Mantua as a source of danger to his 
rule. Once the nobles had departed, Pinamonte headed a rebellion 
against the weakened lord and took over the city himself. 

106. That one whose beard: Eurypylus, Greek augur. According 
to Greek custom an augur was summoned before each voyage to 
choose the exact propitious moment for departure (cutting the ca- 
bles). Dante has Virgil imply that Eurypylus and Calchas were se- 
lected to choose the moment for Agamemnon's departure from 
Aulis to Troy. Actually, according to the Aeneid, Eurypylus was not 
at Aulis. The Aeneid (II, 1 10 ff.) tells how Eurypylus and Calchas 
were both consulted in choosing the moment for the departure from 
Troy. Dante seems to have confused the two incidents. 

168 The Inferno 

109. even the cradles were all but empty of sons: At the time of 
the Trojan War, Greece was said to be so empty of males that 
scarcely any were to be found even in the cradles. 

116. Michael Scott: An Irish scholar of the first half of the thir- 
teenth century. His studies were largely in the occult. Sir Walter 
Scott refers to him in The Lay of the Last Minstrel. 

118. Guido Bonatti: A thirteenth-century astrologer of Forli. He 
was court astrologer to Guido da Montefeltro (see Canto XXVII), 
advising him in* his wars. Asdente: A shoemaker of Parma who 
turned diviner and won wide fame for his forecastings in the last 
half of the thirteenth century. 

124 ff. Cain with his bush of thorns: The Moon. Cain with a bush 
of thorns was the medieval equivalent of our Man in the Moon. 
Dante seems to mean by "Seville" the whole area of Spain and the 
Straits of Gibraltar (Pillars of Hercules), which were believed to be 
the western limit of the world. The moon is setting (i.e., it appears 
on the western waves) on the morning of Holy Saturday, 1300. 

Canto XXI 

circle eight: bolgia five The Grafters 

The Poets move on, talking as they go, and arrive at the 
FIFTH BOLGIA. Here the GRAFTERS are sunk in boiling 
pitch and guarded by DEMONS, who tear them to pieces 
with claws and grappling hooks if they catch them above the 
surface of the pitch. 

The sticky pitch is symbolic of the sticky fingers of the 
Grafters. It serves also to hide them from sight, as their sinful 
dealings on earth were hidden from men 's eyes. The demons, 
too, suggest symbolic possibilities, for they are armed with 
grappling hooks and are forever ready to rend and tear all 
they can get their hands on. 

The Poets watch a demon arrive with a grafting SENATOR 
of LUCCA and fling him into the pitch where the demons set 
upon him. 

To protect Dante from their wrath, Virgil hides him behind 
some jagged rocks and goes ahead alone to negotiate with 
the demons. They set upon him like a pack of mastiffs, but Vir- 
gil secures a safe-conduct from their leader, MALACODA. 
Thereupon Virgil calls Dante from hiding, and they are about 
to set off when they discover that the BRIDGE ACROSS THE 
SIXTH BOLGIA lies shattered. Malacoda tells them there is 
another further on and sends a squad of demons to escort 
them. Their adventures with the demons continue through the 
next Canto. 

These two Cantos may conveniently be remembered as the 
GARGOYLE CANTOS. If the total Commedia is built like a 
cathedral (as so many critics have suggested), it is here cer- 
tainly that Dante attaches his grotesqueries. At no other 


170 The Inferno 

point in the Commedia does Dante give such free rein to his 
coarsest style. 

Thus talking of things which my Comedy does not care 
to sing, we passed from one arch to the next 
until we stood upon its summit. There 

we checked our steps to study the next fosse 
and the next vain lamentations of Malebolge; 5 

awesomely dark and desolate it was. 

As in the Venetian arsenal, the winter through 
there boils the sticky pitch to caulk the seams 
of the sea-battered bottoms when no crew 

can put to sea — instead of which, one starts 10 

to build its ship anew, one plugs the planks 
which have been sprung in many foreign parts; 

some hammer at a mast, some at a rib; 

some make new oars, some braid and coil new lines; 

one patches up the mainsail, one the jib — 1 5 

so, but by Art Divine and not by fire, 
a viscid pitch boiled in the fosse below 
and coated all the bank with gluey mire. 

I saw the pitch; but I saw nothing in it 

except the enormous bubbles of its boiling, 20 

which swelled and sank, like breathing, through all the pit. 

And as I stood and stared into that sink, 

my Master cried, "Take care!" and drew me back 
from my exposed position on the brink. 

I turned like one who cannot wait to see 25 

the thing he dreads, and who, in sudden fright, 
runs while he looks, his curiosity 

Canto XXI 171 

competing with his terror — and at my back 
I saw a figure that came running toward us 
across the ridge, a Demon huge and black. 30 

Ah what a face he had, all hate and wildness! 
Galloping so, with his great wings outspread 
he seemed the embodiment of all bitterness. 

Across each high-hunched shoulder he had thrown 

one haunch of a sinner, whom he held in place 35 

with a great talon round each ankle bone. 

"Blacktalons of our bridge," he began to roar, 
"I bring you one of Santa Zita's Elders! 
Scrub him down while I go back for more: 

I planted a harvest of them in that city: 40 

everyone there is a grafter except Bonturo. 
There 'Yes' is 'No' and 'No' is 'Yes' for a fee." 

Down the sinner plunged, and at once the Demon 
spun from the cliff; no mastiff ever sprang 
more eager from the leash to chase a felon. 45 

Down plunged the sinner and sank to reappear 

with his backside arched and his face and both his feet 
glued to the pitch, almost as if in prayer. 

But the Demons under the bridge, who guard that place 
and the sinners who are thrown to them, bawled out: 50 
"You're out of bounds here for the Sacred Face: 

this is no dip in the Serchio: take your look 
and then get down in the pitch. And stay below 
unless you want a taste of a grappling hook." 

Then they raked him with more than a hundred hooks 55 
bellowing: "Here you dance below the covers. 
Graft all you can there: no one checks your books." 

172 The Inferno 

They dipped him down into that pitch exactly 
as a chef makes scullery boys dip meat in a boiler, 
holding it with their hooks from floating free. 60 

And the Master said: "You had best not be seen 
by these Fiends till I am ready. Crouch down here. 
One of these rocks will serve you as a screen. 

And whatever violence you see done to me, 

you have no cause to fear. I know these matters: 65 

I have been through this once and come back safely." 

With that, he walked on past the end of the bridge; 
and it wanted all his courage to look calm 
from the moment he arrived on the sixth ridge. 

With that same storm and fury that arouses 70 

all the house when the hounds leap at a tramp 
who suddenly falls to pleading where he pauses — 

so rushed those Fiends from below, and all the pack 
pointed their gleaming pitchforks at my Guide. 
But he stood fast and cried to them: "Stand back! 75 

Before those hooks and grapples make too free, 
send up one of your crew to hear me out, 
then ask yourselves if you still care to rip me." 

All cried as one: "Let Malacoda go." 

So the pack stood and one of them came forward, 80 

saying: "What good does he think this will do?" 

"Do you think, Malacoda," my good Master said, 
"you would see me here, having arrived this far 
already, safe from you and every dread, 

without Divine Will and propitious Fate? 85 

Let me pass on, for it is willed in Heaven 
that I must show another this dread state." 

Canto XXI 173 

The Demon stood there on the flinty brim, 
so taken aback he let his pitchfork drop; 
then said to the others: "Take care not to harm him!" 90 

"O you crouched like a cat," my Guide called to me, 
"among the jagged rock piles of the bridge, 
come down to me, for now you may come safely." 

Hearing him, I hurried down the ledge; 

and the Demons all pressed forward when I appeared, 95 
so that I feared they might not keep their pledge. 

So once I saw the Pisan infantry 

march out under truce from the fortress at Caprona, 
staring in fright at the ranks of the enemy. 

I pressed the whole of my body against my Guide, 100 

and not for an instant did I take my eyes 
from those black fiends who scowled on every side. 

They swung their forks saying to one another: 

"Shall I give him a touch in the rump?" and answering: 
"Sure; give him a taste to pay him for his bother." 105 

But the Demon who was talking to my Guide 

turned round and cried to him: "At ease there, Snatcher!" 
And then to us: "There's no road on this side: 

the arch lies all in pieces in the pit. 

If you must go on, follow along this ridge; 1 10 

there's another cliff to cross by just beyond it. 

In just five hours it will be, since the bridge fell, 
a thousand two hundred sixty-six years and a day; 
that was the time the big quake shook all Hell. 

I'll send a squad of my boys along that way 115 

to see if anyone's airing himself below: 
you can go with them: there will be no foul play. 

174 The Inferno 

Front and center here, Grizzly and Hellken," 
he began to order them. "You too, Deaddog. 
Curlybeard, take charge of a squad of ten. 1 20 

Take Grafter and Dragontooth along with you. 
Pigtusk, Catclaw, Cramper, and Crazyred. 
Keep a sharp lookout on the boiling glue 

as you move along, and see that these gentlemen 

are not molested until they reach the crag 1 25 

where they can find a way across the den." 

"In the name of heaven, Master," I cried, "what sort 
of guides are these? Let us go on alone 
if you know the way. Who can trust such an escort! 

If you are as wary as you used to be 1 30 

you surely see them grind their teeth at us, 
and knot their beetle brows so threateningly." 

And he: "I do not like this fear in you. 
Let them gnash and knot as they please; they menace only 
the sticky wretches simmering in that stew." 1 35 

They turned along the left bank in a line; 
but before they started, all of them together 
had stuck their pointed tongues out as a sign 

to their Captain that they wished permission to pass, 

and he had made a trumpet of his ass. 140 



Dante has been called "The Master of the Disgusting" with the 
stress at times on the mastery and at times on the disgust. The occa- 
sional coarseness of details in other Cantos (especially in Cantos 
XVIII and XXVIII) has offended certain delicate readers. It is worth 

Canto XXI 175 

pointing out that the mention of bodily function is likely to be more 
shocking in a Protestant than in a Catholic culture. It has often 
seemed to me that the offensive language of Protestantism is ob- 
scenity; the offensive language of Catholicism is profanity or blas- 
phemy: one offends on a scale i)( unmentionable words for bodily 
function, the other on a scale of disrespect for the sacred. Dante 
places the Blasphemous in Hell as the worst of the Violent against 
God and His Works, but he has no category for punishing those who 
use four- letter words. 

The difference is not, I think, national, but religious. Chaucer, as 
a man of Catholic England, took exactly Dante's view in the matter 
of what was and what was not shocking language. In "The Par- 
doner's Tale," Chaucer sermonized with great feeling against the ri- 
oters for their profanity and blasphemy (for the way they rend 
Christ's body with their oaths) but he is quite free himself with "ob- 
scenity." Modern English readers tend to find nothing whatever 
startling in his profanity, but the schoolboys faithfully continue to 
underline the marvels of his Anglo-Saxon monosyllables and to 
make marginal notes on them. 

7. the Venetian arsenal: The arsenal was not only an arms manu- 
factory but a great center of shipbuilding and repairing. 

37. Blacktalons: The original is Malebranche, i.e., "Evil Claws." 

38. Santa Zita: The patron saint of the city of Lucca. "One of 
Santa Zita's Elders" would therefore equal "One of Lucca's Sena- 
tors" (i.e., Aldermen). Commentators have searched the records of 
Luccan Aldermen who died on Holy Saturday of 1300, and one 
Martino Bottaio has been suggested as the newcomer, but there is no 
evidence that Dante had a specific man in mind. More probably he 
meant simply to underscore the fact that Lucca was a city of 
grafters, just as Bologna was represented as a city of panderers and 

41. Bonturo: Bonturo Dati, a politician of Lucca. The phrase is 
ironic: Bonturo was the most avid grafter of them all. 

5 1 . Sacred Face: II volto santo was an ancient wooden image of 
Christ venerated by the Luccanese. These ironies and the grotesque- 
ness of the Elder's appearance mark the beginning of the gargoyle 
dance that swells and rolls through this Canto and the next. 

176 The Inferno 

52. Serchio: A river near Lucca. 

6 1 . You had best not be seen: It is only in the passage through this 
Bolgia, out of the total journey, that Dante presents himself as being 
in physical danger. Since his dismissal from office and his exile 
from Florence (on pain of death if he return) was based on a false 
charge of grafting, the reference is pointedly autobiographical. Such 
an autobiographical interpretation is certainly consistent with the 
method of Dante's allegory. 

79. Malacoda: The name equals "Bad Tail," or "Evil Tail." He is 
the captain of these grim and semi-military police. I have not trans- 
lated his name as I have those of the other fiends, since I cannot see 
that it offers any real difficulty to an English reader. 

97-99. Pisan infantry . . . Caprona, etc.: A Tuscan army attacked 
the fortress of Caprona near Pisa in 1289 and after fierce fighting the 
Pisan defenders were promised a safe-conduct if they would surren- 
der. Dante was probably serving with the Tuscans (the opening lines 
of the next Canto certainly suggest that he had seen military ser- 
vice). In some accounts it is reported that the Tuscans massacred the 
Pisans despite their promised safe-conduct — an ominous analogy if 
true. In any case the emerging Pisans would be sufficiently familiar 
with the treacheries of Italian politics to feel profoundly uneasy at 
being surrounded by their enemies under such conditions. 

110-111. If you must go on, etc.: Malacoda is lying, as the Poets 
will discover: all the bridges across the Sixth Bolgia have fallen as a 
result of the earthquake that shook Hell at the death of Christ. The 
great rock fall between the Sixth and Seventh Circle (see Canto XI) 
was caused by the same shock, as was the ruin at the entrance to the 
Second Circle (see Canto V). 

112-114. in just five hours . . . a thousand two hundred and sixty- 
six years and a day: Christ died on Good Friday of the year 34, and 
it is now Holy Saturday of the year 1300, five hours before the hour 
of his death. Many commentators (and Dante himself in the Con- 
vivio) place the hours of Christ's death at exactly noon. Accord- 
ingly, it would now be 7:00 a.m. of Holy Saturday— exactly eight 
minutes since the Poets left the bridge over the Fourth Bolgia (at 

In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, however, the hour of 

Canto XXI 177 

Christ's death is precisely stated as 3:00 p.m. Dante would certainly 
be familiar with the Synoptic Gospels, and on that authority it 
would now be 10:00 a.m. 

As far as the action of the poem is concerned, the only question of 
consequence is the time-lapse from the bridge over the Fourth Bol- 
gia to the talk with Malacoda, a matter of eight minutes or of three 
hours and eight minutes. One certainly seems too short, the other 
needlessly long, and while either answer can be supported with 
good arguments, this may be another case of literal worrying of "po- 
etic" accuracy. 

138-140. tongues . . . trumpet: The fiends obviously constitute a 
kind of debased military organization and these grotesqueries are 
their sign and countersign. Dante, himself, in his present satyr-like 
humor, finds them quite remarkable signals, as he goes on to note in 
the next Canto. 

Canto XXII 

circle eight: bolgia five The Grafters 

The Poets set off with their escorts of demons. Dante sees the 
GRAFTERS lying in the pitch like frogs in water with only 
their muzzles out. They disappear as soon as they sight 
the demons and only a ripple on the surface betrays their 

ducks too late and is seized by the demons who are about to 
claw him, but CURLYBEARD holds them back while Virgil 
questions him. The wretch speaks of his fellow sinners, 
FRIAR GOMITA and MICHEL ZANCHE, while the uncon- 
trollable demons rake him from time to time with their hooks. 

The Navarrese offers to lure some of his fellow sufferers 
into the hands of the demons, and when his plan is accepted 
he plunges into the pitch and escapes. HELLKEN and GRIZ- 
ZLY fly after him, but too late. They start a brawl in mid-air 
and fall into the pitch themselves. Curlybeard immediately 
organizes a rescue party and the Poets, fearing the bad tem- 
per of the frustrated demons, take advantage of the confusion 
to slip away. 

I have seen horsemen breaking camp. I have seen 
the beginning of the assault, the march and muster, 
and at times the retreat and riot. I have been 

where chargers trampled your land, O Aretines! 
I have seen columns of foragers, shocks of tourney, 
and running of tilts. I have seen the endless lines 


Canto XX II 179 

march to bells, drums, trumpets, from far and near. 
I have seen them march on signals from a castle. 
I have seen them march with native and foreign gear. 

But never yet have I seen horse or foot, 10 

nor ship in range of land nor sight of star, 
take its direction from so low a toot. 

We went with the ten Fiends — ah, savage crew! — 

but "In church with saints; with stewpots in the tavern," 
as the old proverb wisely bids us do. 15 

All my attention was fixed upon the pitch: 
to observe the people who were boiling in it, 
and the customs and the punishments of that ditch. 

As dolphins surface and begin to flip 

their arched backs from the sea, warning the sailors 20 
to fall-to and begin to secure ship — 

So now and then, some soul, to ease his pain, 
showed us a glimpse of his back above the pitch 
and quick as lightning disappeared again. 

And as, at the edge of a ditch, frogs squat about 25 

hiding their feet and bodies in the water, 
leaving only their muzzles sticking out — 

so stood the sinners in that dismal ditch; 
but as Curlybeard approached, only a ripple 
showed where they had ducked back into the pitch. 30 

I saw — the dread of it haunts me to this day — 
one linger a bit too long, as it sometimes happens 
one frog remains when another spurts away; 

and Catclaw, who was nearest, ran a hook 

through the sinner's pitchy hair and hauled him in. 35 
He looked like an otter dripping from the brook. 

180 The Inferno 

I knew the names of all the Fiends by then; 
I had made a note of them at the first muster, 
and, marching, had listened and checked them over again. 

"Hey, Crazyred," the crew of Demons cried 40 

all together, "give him a taste of your claws. 
Dig him open a little. Off with his hide." 

And I then: "Master, can you find out, please, 
the name and history of that luckless one 
who has fallen into the hands of his enemies?" 45 

My Guide approached that wraith from the hot tar 
and asked him whence he came. The wretch replied: 
"I was born and raised in the Kingdom of Navarre. 

My mother placed me in service to a knight; 

for she had borne me to a squanderer 50 

who killed himself when he ran through his birthright. 

Then I became a domestic in the service 

of good King Thibault. There I began to graft, 
and I account for it in this hot crevice." 

And Pigtusk, who at the ends of his lower lip 55 

shot forth two teeth more terrible than a boar's, 
made the wretch feel how one of them could rip. 

The mouse had come among bad cats, but here 
Curlybeard locked arms around him crying: 
"While I've got hold of him the rest stand clear!" 60 

And turning his face to my Guide: "If you want to ask him 
anything else," he added, "ask away 
before the others tear him limb from limb." 

And my Guide to the sinner: "I should like to know 

if among the other souls beneath the pitch 65 

are any Italians?" And the wretch: "Just now 

Canto XXII 181 

I left a shade who came from parts near by. 

Would I were still in the pitch with him, for then 
these hooks would not be giving me cause to cry." 

And suddenly Grafter bellowed in great heat: 70 

"We've stood enough!" And he hooked the sinner's arm 
and, raking it, ripped off a chunk of meat. 

Then Dragontooth wanted to play, too, reaching down 
for a catch at the sinner's legs; but Curlybeard 
wheeled round and round with a terrifying frown, 75 

and when the Fiends had somewhat given ground 
and calmed a little, my Guide, without delay, 
asked the wretch, who was staring at his wound: 

"Who was the sinner from whom you say you made 

your evil-starred departure to come ashore 80 

among these Fiends?" And the wretch: "It was the shade 

of Friar Gomita of Gallura, the crooked stem 
of every Fraud: when his master's enemies 
were in his hands, he won high praise from them. 

He took their money without case or docket, 85 

and let them go. He was in all his dealings 
no petty bursar, but a kingly pocket. 

With him, his endless crony in the fosse, 
is Don Michel Zanche of Logodoro; 
they babble about Sardinia without pause. 90 

But look! See that fiend grinning at your side! 
There is much more that I should like to tell you, 
but oh, I think he means to grate my hide!" 

But their grim sergeant wheeled, sensing foul play, 

and turning on Cramper, who seemed set to strike, 95 

ordered: "Clear off, you buzzard. Clear off, I say!" 

182 The Inferno 

"If either of you would like to see and hear 
Tuscans or Lombards," the pale sinner said, 
"I can lure them out of hiding if you'll stand clear 

and let me sit here at the edge of the ditch, 1 00 

and get all these Blacktalons out of sight; 
for while they're here, no one will leave the pitch. 

In exchange for myself, I can fish you up as pretty 
a mess of souls as you like. I have only to whistle 
the way we do when one of us gets free." 105 

Deaddog raised his snout as he listened to him; 
then, shaking his head, said, "Listen to the grafter 
spinning his tricks so he can jump from the brim!" 

And the sticky wretch, who was all treachery: 

"Oh I am more than tricky when there's a chance 110 

to see my friends in greater misery." 

Hellken, against the will of all the crew, 
could hold no longer. "If you jump," he said 
to the scheming wretch, "I won't come after you 

at a gallop, but like a hawk after a mouse. 115 

We'll clear the edge and hide behind the bank: 
let's see if you're trickster enough for all of us." 

Reader, here is new game! The Fiends withdrew 
from the bank's edge, and Deaddog, who at first 
was most against it, led the savage crew. 1 20 

The Navarrese chose his moment carefully: 
and planting both his feet against the ground, 
he leaped, and in an instant he was free. 

The Fiends were stung with shame, and of the lot 

Hellken most, who had been the cause of it. 125 

He leaped out madly bellowing: "You're caught!" 

Canto XXII 183 

but little good it did him; terror pressed 

harder than wings; the sinner dove from sight 
and the Fiend in full flight had to raise his breast. 

A duck, when the falcon dives, will disappear 130 

exactly so, all in a flash, while he 
returns defeated and weary up the air. 

Grizzly, in a rage at the sinner's flight, 

flew after Hellken, hoping the wraith would escape, 

so he might find an excuse to start a fight. 135 

And as soon as the grafter sank below the pitch, 
Grizzly turned his talons against Hellken, 
locked with him claw to claw above the ditch. 

But Hellken was sparrowhawk enough for two 

and clawed him well; and ripping one another, 140 

they plunged together into the hot stew. 

The heat broke up the brawl immediately, 

but their wings were smeared with pitch and they could not rise. 
Curlybeard, upset as his company, 

commanded four to fly to the other coast 145 

at once with all their grapples. At top speed 
the Fiends divided, each one to his post. 

Some on the near edge, some along the far, 
they stretched their hooks out to the clotted pair 
who were already cooked deep through the scar 150 

of their first burn. And turning to one side 
we slipped off, leaving them thus occupied. 


4. Aretines: The people of Arezzo. In 1289 the Guelphs of Flor- 
ence and Lucca defeated the Ghibellines of Arezzo at Campaldino. 

184 The Inferno 

Dante was present with the Guelphs, though probably as an ob- 
server and not as a warrior. 

5-6. tourney . . . tilts: A tourney was contested by groups of 
knights in a field; a tilt by individuals who tried to unhorse one an- 
other across a barrier. 

7. bells: The army of each town was equipped with a chariot on 
which bells were mounted. Signals could be given by the bells and 
special decorations made the chariot stand out in battle. It served 
therefore as a rallying point. 

8. signals from a castle: When troops were in sight of their castle, 
their movements could be directed from the towers — by banners in 
daytime and by fires at night, much as some naval signals are still 
given today. 

19-21 . dolphins, etc.: It was a common belief that when dolphins 
began to leap around a ship they were warning the sailors of an ap- 
proaching storm. 

31 ff. THE NAVARRESE GRAFTER. His own speech tells all 
that is known about him. The recital could serve as a description of 
many a courtier. Thibault II was King of Navarre, a realm that lay in 
what is now northern Spain. 

54. and I account: Dante's irony is certainly intentional: the ac- 
counts of the Grafters cannot be concealed from God's Justice. 

66. Italians: Dante uses the term Latino, strictly speaking, a per- 
son from the area of ancient Latium, now (roughly) Lazio, the 
province in which Rome is located. It was against the Latians that 
Aeneas fought on coming to Italy. More generally, Dante uses the 
term for any southern Italian. Here, however, the usage seems pre- 
cise, since the sinner refers to "points near by" and means Sardinia. 
Rome is the point in Italy closest to Sardinia. 

82. Friar Gomita of Galium (GHAW-mee-ta): In 1300 Sardinia 
was a Pisan possession, and was divided into four districts, of 
which Gallura was the northeast. Friar Gomita administered Gallura 
for his own considerable profit. He was hanged by the Pisan gover- 
nor when he was found guilty of taking bribes to let prisoners 

Canto XXII 185 

89. Michel Zanche de Logodoro (Mee-KELL ZAHN-keh): He 
was made Vicar of Logodoro when the King of Sardinia went off to 
war. The King was captured and did not return. Michel maneuvered 
a divorce for the Queen and married her himself. About 1 290 he was 
murdered by his son-in-law, Branca d'Oria (see Canto XXXIII). 

Canto XXIII 

circle eight: bolgia six The Hypocrites 

The Poets are pursued by the Fiends and escape them by slid- 
ing down the sloping bank of the next pit. They are now in the 
SIXTH BOLGIA. Here the HYPOCRITES, weighted down by 
great leaden robes, walk eternally round and round a narrow 
track. The robes are brilliantly gilded on the outside and are 
shaped like a monk's habit, for the hypocrite's outward ap- 
pearance shines brightly and passes for holiness, but under 
that show lies the terrible weight of his deceit which the soul 
must bear through all eternity. 

The Poets talk to TWO JOVIAL FRIARS and come upon 
CAIAPHAS, the chief sinner of that place. Caiaphas was 
the High Priest of the Jews who counseled the Pharisees 
to crucify Jesus in the name of public expedience. He is pun- 
ished by being himself crucified to the floor of Hell by 
three great stakes, and in such a position that every pass- 
ing sinner must walk upon him. Thus he must suffer upon 
his own body the weight of all the world's hypocrisy, as 
Christ suffered upon His body the pain of all the world's 

The Jovial Friars tell Virgil how he may climb from the pit, 
and Virgil discovers that Malacoda lied to him about the 
bridges over the Sixth Bolgia. 

Silent, apart, and unattended we went 

as Minor Friars go when they walk abroad, 
one following the other. The incident 


Canto XX/II J 87 

recalled the fable of the Mouse and the Frog 

that Aesop tells. For compared attentively 5 

point by point, "pig" is no closer to "hog" 

than the one case to the other. And as one thought 
springs from another, so the comparison 
gave birth to a new concern, at which I caught 

my breath in fear. This thought ran through my mind: 10 
"These Fiends, through us, have been made ridiculous, 
and have suffered insult and injury of a kind 

to make them smart. Unless we take good care — 
now rage is added to their natural spleen — 
they will hunt us down as greyhounds hunt the hare." 15 

Already I felt my scalp grow tight with fear. 
I was staring back in terror as I said: 
"Master, unless we find concealment here 

and soon, I dread the rage of the Fiends: already 

they are yelping on our trail: I imagine them 20 

so vividly I can hear them now." And he: 

"Were I a pane of leaded glass, I could not 
summon your outward look more instantly 
into myself, than I do your inner thought. 

Your fears were mixed already with my own 25 

with the same suggestion and the same dark look; 
so that of both I form one resolution: 

the right bank may be sloping: in that case 
we may find some way down to the next pit 
and so escape from the imagined chase." 30 

He had not finished answering me thus 

when, not far off, their giant wings outspread, 
I saw the Fiends come charging after us. 

188 The Inferno 

Seizing me instantly in his arms, my Guide — 
like a mother wakened by a midnight noise 35 

to find a wall of flame at her bedside 

(who takes her child and runs, and more concerned 
for him than for herself, does not pause even 
to throw a wrap about her) raised me, turned, 

and down the rugged bank from the high summit 40 

flung himself down supine onto the slope 
which walls the upper side of the next pit. 

Water that turns the great wheel of a land-mill 
never ran faster through the end of a sluice 
at the point nearest the paddles — as down that hill 45 

my Guide and Master bore me on his breast, 
as if I were not a companion, but a son. 
And the soles of his feet had hardly come to rest 

on the bed of the depth below, when on the height 

we had just left, the Fiends beat their great wings. 50 

But now they gave my Guide no cause for fright; 

for the Providence that gave them the fifth pit 
to govern as the ministers of Its will, 
takes from their souls the power of leaving it. 

About us now in the depth of the pit we found 55 

a painted people, weary and defeated. 
Slowly, in pain, they paced it round and round. 

All wore great cloaks cut to as ample a size 
as those worn by the Benedictines of Cluny. 
The enormous hoods were drawn over their eyes. 60 

The outside is all dazzle, golden and fair; 

the inside, lead, so heavy that Frederick's capes, 
compared to these, would seem as light as air. 

Canto XXIII 189 

weary mantle for eternity ! 

We turned to the left again along their course, 65 

listening to their moans of misery, 

but they moved so slowly down that barren strip, 
tired by their burden, that our company 
was changed at every movement of the hip. 

And walking thus, I said: "As we go on, 70 

may it please you to look about among these people 
for any whose name or history may be known." 

And one who understood Tuscan cried to us there 
as we hurried past: "I pray you check your speed, 
you who run so fast through the sick air: 75 

it may be I am one who will fit your case." 
And at his words my Master turned and said: 
"Wait now, then go with him at his own pace." 

1 waited there, and saw along that track 

two souls who seemed in haste to be with me; 80 

but the narrow way and their burden held them back. 

When they had reached me down that narrow way 
they stared at me in silence and amazement, 
then turned to one another. I heard one say: 

"This one seems, by the motion of his throat, 85 

to be alive; and if they are dead, how is it 
they are allowed to shed the leaden coat?" 

And then to me: "O Tuscan, come so far 
to the college of the sorry hypocrites, 
do not disdain to tell us who you are." 90 

And I: "I was born and raised a Florentine 

on the green and lovely banks of Arno's waters, 
I go with the body that was always mine. 

190 The Inferno 

But who are you, who sighing as you go 

distill in floods of tears that drown your cheeks? 95 

What punishment is this that glitters so?" 

"These burnished robes are of thick lead," said one, 
"and are hung on us like counterweights, so heavy 
that we, their weary fulcrums, creak and groan. 

Jovial Friars and Bolognese were we. 100 

We were chosen jointly by your Florentines 
to keep the peace, an office usually 

held by a single man; near the Gardingo 
one still may see the sort of peace we kept. 
I was called Catalano, he, Loderingo." 105 

I began: "O Friars, your evil . . ." — and then 1 saw 
a figure crucified upon the ground 
by three great stakes, and I fell still in awe. 

When he saw me there, he began to puff great sighs 

into his beard, convulsing all his body; 1 10 

and Friar Catalano, following my eyes, 

said to me: "That one nailed across the road 
counselled the Pharisees that it was fitting 
one man be tortured for the public good. 

Naked he lies fixed there, as you see, 115 

in the path of all who pass; there he must feel 
the weight of all through all eternity. 

His father-in-law and the others of the Council 
which was a seed of wrath to all the Jews, 
are similarly staked for the same evil." 120 

Then I saw Virgil marvel for a while 
over that soul so ignominiously 
stretched on the cross in Hell's eternal exile. 

Canto XXI II 19 J 

Then, turning, he asked the Friar: "If your law permit, 

can you tell us if somewhere along the right 125 

there is some gap in the stone wall of the pit 

through which we two may climb to the next brink 
without the need of summoning the Black Angels 
and forcing them to raise us from this sink?" 

He: "Nearer than you hope, there is a bridge 1 30 

that runs from the great circle of the scarp 
and crosses every ditch from ridge to ridge, 

except that in this it is broken; but with care 

you can mount the ruins which lie along the slope 

and make a heap on the bottom." My Guide stood there 1 35 

motionless for a while with a dark look. 
At last he said: "He lied about this business, 
who spears the sinners yonder with his hook." 

And the Friar: "Once at Bologna I heard the wise 

discussing the Devil's sins; among them I heard 140 

that he is a liar and the father of lies." 

When the sinner had finished speaking, I saw the face 
of my sweet Master darken a bit with anger: 
he set off at a great stride from that place, 

and I turned from that weighted hypocrite 1 45 

to follow in the prints of his dear feet. 


4. the fable of the Mouse and the Frog: The fable was not by Ae- 
sop, but was attributed to him in Dante's time: A mouse comes to a 
body of water and wonders how to cross. A frog, thinking to drown 
the mouse, offers to ferry him, but the mouse is afraid he will fall 
off. The frog thereupon suggests that the mouse tie himself to one of 
the frog's feet. In this way they start across, but in the middle the 

192 The Inferno 

frog dives from under the mouse, who struggles desperately to stay 
afloat while the frog tries to pull him under. A hawk sees the mouse 
struggling and swoops down and seizes him; but since the frog is 
tied to the mouse, it too is carried away, and so both of them are 

6. point by point: The mouse would be the Navarrese Grafter. The 
frog would be the two fiends, Grizzly and Hellken. By seeking to 
harm the Navarrese they came to grief themselves. 

22. a pane of leaded glass: A mirror. Mirrors were backed with 
lead in Dante's time. 

43. land-mill: As distinguished from the floating mills common 
in Dante's time and up to the advent of the steam engine. These were 
built on rafts that were anchored in the swift-flowing rivers of 
Northern Italy. 

44-45. ran faster . . . at the point nearest the paddles: The sharp 
drop of the sluice makes the water run fastest at the point at which it 
hits the wheel. 

59. the Benedictines ofCluny: The habit of these monks was es- 
pecially ample and elegant. St. Bernard once wrote ironically to a 
nephew who had entered this monastery: "If length of sleeves and 
amplitude of hood made for holiness, what could hold me back from 
following [your lead]." 

62. Fredericks capes: Frederick II executed persons found guilty 
of treason by fastening them into a sort of leaden shell. The doomed 
man was then placed in a cauldron over a fire and the lead was 
melted around him. 

68-69. our company was changed, etc.: Another tremendous Dan- 
tean figure. Sense: "They moved so slowly that at every step (move- 
ment of the hip) we found ourselves beside new sinners." 

1 00. Jovial Friars: A nickname given to the military monks of 
the order of the Glorious Virgin Mary founded at Bologna in 1261. 
Their original aim was to serve as peacemakers, enforcers of order, 
and protectors of the weak, but their observance of their rules be- 
came so scandalously lax, and their management of worldly affairs 
so self-seeking, that the order was disbanded by Papal decree. 

Canto XXIII 193 

101-102. We were chosen jointly . . . to keep the peace: Catalano 
dei Malavolti (c. 1210-1285), a Guelph, and Loderingo degli An- 
dolo (c. 1210-1293), a Ghibelline, were both Bolognese and, as 
brothers of the Jovial Friars, both had served as podesta (the chief 
officer charged with keeping the peace) of many cities for varying 
terms. In 1266 they were jointly appointed to the office of podesta 
of Florence on the theory that a bipartisan administration by men 
of God would bring peace to the city. Their tenure of office was 
marked by great violence, however; and they were forced to leave in 
a matter of months. Modern scholarship has established the fact that 
they served as instruments of Clement IV's policy in Florence, 
working at his orders to overthrow the Ghibellines under the guise 
of an impartial administration. 

103. Gardingo: The site of the palace of the Ghibelline family 
degli Uberti. In the riots resulting from the maladministration of the 
two Jovial Friars, the Ghibellines were forced out of the city and the 
Uberti palace was razed. 

107 ff. a figure crucified upon the ground: Caiaphas. His words 
were: "It is expedient that one man shall die for the people and that 
the whole nation perish not." {John, xi, 50). 

118. his father-in-law and the others: Annas, father-in-law of Cai- 
aphas, was the first before whom Jesus was led upon his arrest 
(John, xviii, 13). He had Jesus bound and delivered to Caiaphas. 

121. 1 saw Virgil marvel: Caiaphas had not been there on Virgil's 
first descent into Hell. 

137-138. he lied. . . who spears the sinners yonder: Malacoda. 

143. darken a bit: The original is turbato un poco d'ira. A bit of 
anger befits the righteous indignation of Human Reason, but im- 
moderate anger would be out of character. One of the sublimities of 
Dante's writing is the way in which even the smallest details rein- 
force the great concepts. 

Canto XXIV 

circle eight: bolgia seven The Thieves 

The Poets climb the right bank laboriously, cross the bridge 
of the SEVENTH BOLGIA and descend the far bank to ob- 
serve the THIEVES. They find the pit full of monstrous rep- 
tiles who curl themselves about the sinners like living coils of 
rope, binding each sinner 's hands behind his back, and knot- 
ting themselves through the loins. Other reptiles dart about 
the place, and the Poets see one of them fly through the air 
and pierce the jugular vein of one sinner who immediately 
bursts into flames until only ashes remain. From the ashes the 
sinner re-forms painfully. 

These are Dante y s first observations of the Thieves and will 
be carried further in the next Canto, but the first allegorical 
retribution is immediately apparent. Thievery is reptilian in 
its sp.rrprp- therefore it is punished by reptiles, i ne nanJTof 
the thieves are the agents of their crimes; therefore they are 
bound forever. Atid as the thief destroys his fellowmen by 
making their substance disappear, so is he painfully de- 
stroyed and made to disappear, not once but over and over 

The sinner who has risen from his own ashes reluctantly 
identifies himself as VANNI FUCCI. He tells his story, and to 
revenge himself for having been forced to reveal his identity 
he utters a dark prophecy against Dante. 

In the turning season of the youthful year, 

when the sun is warming his rays beneath Aquarius 
and the days and nights already begin to near 


Canto XX/V 195 

their perfect balance; the hoar-frost copies then 

the image of his white sister on the ground, 5 

but the first sun wipes away the work of his pen. 

The peasants who lack fodder then arise 
and look about and see the fields all white, 
and hear their lambs bleat; then they smite their thighs, 

go back into the house, walk here and there, 10 

pacing, fretting, wondering what to do, 
then come out doors again, and there, despair 

falls from them when they see how the earth's face 
has changed in so little time, and they take their staffs 
and drive their lambs to feed — so in that place 15 

when I saw my Guide and Master's eyebrows lower, 
my spirits fell and I was sorely vexed; 
and as quickly came the plaster to the sore: 

for when he had reached the ruined bridge, he stood 

and turned on me that sweet and open look 20 

with which he had greeted me in the dark wood. 

When he had paused and studied carefully 

the heap of stones, he seemed to reach some plan, 
for he turned and opened his arms and lifted me. 

Like one who works and calculates ahead, 25 

and is always ready for what happens next — 
so, raising me above that dismal bed 

to the top of one great slab of the fallen slate, 
he chose another saying: "Climb here, but first 
test it to see if it will hold your weight." 30 

It was no climb for a lead-hung hypocrite: 
for scarcely we — he light and I assisted — 
could crawl handhold by handhold from the pit; 

196 The Inferno 

and were it not that the bank along this side 

was lower than the one down which we had slid, 35 

I at least— I will not speak for my Guide — 

would have turned back. But as all of the vast rim 
of Malebolge leans toward the lowest well, 
so each succeeding valley and each brim 

is lower than the last. We climbed the face 40 

and arrived by great exertion to the point 
where the last rock had fallen from its place. 

My lungs were pumping as if they could not stop; 
I thought I could not go on, and I sat exhausted 
the instant I had clambered to the top. 45 

"Up on your feet! This is no time to tire!" 
my Master cried. "The man who lies asleep 
will never waken fame, and his desire 

and all his life drift past him like a dream, 

and the traces of his memory fade from time 50 

like smoke in air, or ripples on a stream. 

Now, therefore, rise. Control your breath, and call 
upon the strength of soul that wins all battles 
unless it sink in the gross body's fall. 

There is a longer ladder yet to climb: 55 

this much is not enough. If you understand me, 
show that you mean to profit from your time." 

I rose and made my breath appear more steady 
than it really was, and I replied: "Lead on 
as it pleases you to go: I am strong and ready." 60 

We picked our way up the cliff, a painful climb, 
for it was narrower, steeper, and more jagged 
than any we had crossed up to that time. 

Canto XXIV 197 

I moved along, talking to hide my faintness, 

when a voice that seemed unable to form words 65 

rose from the depths of the next chasm's darkness. 

I do not know what it said, though by then the Sage 
had led me to the top of the next arch; 
but the speaker seemed in a tremendous rage. 

I was bending over the brim, but living eyes 70 

could not plumb to the bottom of that dark; 
therefore I said, "Master, let me advise 

that we cross over and climb down the wall: 

for just as I hear the voice without understanding, 

so I look down and make out nothing at all." 75 

"I make no other answer than the act," 
the Master said: "the only fit reply 
to a fit request is silence and the fact." 

So we moved down the bridge to the stone pier 

that shores the end of the arch on the eighth bank, 80 

and there I saw the chasm's depths made clear; 

and there great coils of serpents met my sight, 
so hideous a mass that even now 
the memory makes my blood run cold with fright. 

Let Libya boast no longer, for though its sands 85 

breed chelidrids, jaculi, and phareans, 
cenchriads, and two-headed amphisbands, 

it never bred such a variety 

of vipers, no, not with all Ethiopia 

and all the lands that lie by the Red Sea. 90 

Amid that swarm, naked and without hope, 
people ran terrified, not even dreaming 
of a hole to hide in, or of heliotrope. 

198 The Inferno 

Their hands were bound behind by coils of serpents 

which thrust their heads and tails between the loins 95 
and bunched in front, a mass of knotted torments. 

One of the damned came racing round a boulder, 
and as he passed us, a great snake shot up 
and bit him where the neck joins with the shoulder. 

No mortal pen — however fast it flash 1 00 

over the page — could write down o or i 
as quickly as he flamed and fell in ash; 

and when he was dissolved into a heap 
upon the ground, the dust rose of itself 
and immediately resumed its former shape. 1 05 

Precisely so, philosophers declare, 
the Phoenix dies and then is born again 
when it approaches its five hundredth year. 

It lives on tears of balsam and of incense; 

in all its life it eats no herb or grain, 1 10 

and nard and precious myrrh sweeten its cerements. 

And as a person fallen in a fit, 

possessed by a Demon or some other seizure 
that fetters him without his knowing it, 

struggles up to his feet and blinks his eyes 115 

(still stupefied by the great agony 
he has just passed), and, looking round him, sighs — 

such was the sinner when at last he rose. 

Power of God! How dreadful is Thy will 

which in its vengeance rains such fearful blows. 1 20 

Then my Guide asked him who he was. And he 
answered reluctantly: "Not long ago 

1 rained into this gullet from Tuscany. 

Canto XXIV 199 

I am Vanni Fucci, the beast. A mule among men, 

I chose the bestial life above the human. 1 25 

Savage Pistoia was my fitting den." 

And I to my Guide: "Detain him a bit longer 
and ask what crime it was that sent him here; 
I knew him as a man of blood and anger." 

The sinner, hearing me, seemed discomforted, 1 30 

but he turned and fixed his eyes upon my face 
with a look of dismal shame; at length he said: 

"That you have found me out among the strife 
and misery of this place, grieves my heart more 
than did the day that cut me from my life. 1 35 

But I am forced to answer truthfully: 
I am put down so low because it was I 
who stole the treasure from the Sacristy, 

for which others once were blamed. But that you may 

find less to gloat about if you escape here, 140 

prick up your ears and listen to what I say: 

First Pistoia is emptied of the Black, 

then Florence changes her party and her laws. 
From Valdimagra the God of War brings back 

a fiery vapor wrapped in turbid air: 145 

then in a storm of battle at Piceno 
the vapor breaks apart the mist, and there 

every White shall feel his wounds anew. 

And I have told you this that it may grieve you." 


2. Aquarius: The zodiacal sign for the period from January 21 to 
February 21. The sun is moving north then to approach the vernal 

200 The Inferno 

equinox (March 21), at which point the days and the nights are 
equal. The Italian spring comes early, and the first warm days would 
normally occur under Aquarius. 

4. hoar-frost copies then: The hoar-frost looks like snow but 
melts away as soon as the sun strikes it. 

7-15. the peasants, etc.: A fine example of Dante's ability to 
build dramatic equivalents for the emotion he wishes to convey. 

9. they smite their thighs: A common Italian gesture of vexation, 
about equivalent to smiting the forehead with the palm of the hand. 

34-35. the bank along this side was lower: See diagram, Canto 

55. there is a longer ladder yet to climb: Many allegorical possi- 
bilities are obvious here. The whole ascent of Purgatory lies ahead, 
Virgil points out, and here Dante seems exhausted simply in climb- 
ing away from (renouncing) hypocrisy. Further, the descent into 
Hell is symbolic of the recognition of sin, and the ascent of Purga- 
tory of the purification from sin. The ascent is by far the more ardu- 
ous task. 

61. a painful climb: The "top" Dante mentions in line 45 must 
obviously have been the top of the fallen stone that was once the 
bridge. There remains the difficult climb up the remainder of the cliff. 

85-90. Libya . . . Ethiopia . . . lands that lie by the Red Sea: The 
desert areas of the Mediterranean shores. Lucan's Pharsalia de- 
scribes the assortment of monsters listed here by Dante. I have ren- 
dered their names from Latin to English jabberwocky to avoid 
problems of pronunciation. In Lucan chelydri make their trails 
smoke and burn, they are amphibious; jaculi fly through the air like 
darts piercing what they hit; pharese plow the ground with their 
tails; cenchri waver from side to side when they move; and amphis- 
boenae have a head at each end. 

93. heliotrope: Not the flower, but the bloodstone, a spotted chal- 
cedony. It was believed to make the wearer invisible. 

107. the Phoenix: The fabulous Phoenix of Arabia was the only 
one of its kind in the world. Every five hundred years it built a nest 
of spices and incense which took fire from the heat of the sun and the 

Canto XXIV 201 

beating of the Phoenix's wings. The Phoenix was thereupon cre- 
mated and was then re-born from its ashes. 

123. this gullet: Dante often gives an animate force to the ledges 
of Hell. The place in which the sinner is punished possesses him as 
if it were a living force. It should be remembered that, on one level 
of the allegory, Hell is every sinner's own guilty conscience. 

1 24. Vanni Fucci (VAH-nee FOO-tchee): The bastard son of Fuc- 
cio de Lazzeri, a nobleman (Black) of Pistoia. In 1293 with two ac- 
complices he stole the treasure of San Jacopo in the Duomo of San 
Zeno. Others were accused, and one man spent a year in jail on this 
charge before the guilty persons were discovered. Vanni Fucci had 
escaped from Pistoia by then, but his accomplices were convicted. 

1 29. a man of blood and anger: Dante (the traveler within the 
narrative rather than Dante the author) claims that he did not know 
Fucci was a thief, but only that he was a man of blood and violence. 
He should therefore be punished in the Seventh Circle. 

142 ff. VANNI FUCCFS PROPHECY. In May of 1301 the 
Whites of Florence joined with the Whites of Pistoia to expel the 
Pistoian Blacks and destroy their houses. The ejected Blacks fled to 
Florence and joined forces with the Florentine Blacks. On Novem- 
ber 1 of the same year, Charles of Valois took Florence and helped 
the Blacks drive out the Whites. Piceno was the scene of a battle in 
which the Blacks of Florence and Lucca combined in 1302 to cap- 
ture Serravalle, a White strong point near Pistoia. 

Dante's meteorological figure is based on the contemporary be- 
lief that electric storms were caused by a conflict between "fiery 
vapors" and the preponderant "watery vapors." By their contraries 
the watery vapors (mist) surround the fiery vapors, seeking to extin- 
guish them, and the fiery vapors combat to shatter the mist. Here the 
fiery vapor is the Blacks and the shattered mist is the Whites. 

Canto XXV 

circle eight: bolgia seven The Thieves 

Vanni s rage mounts to the point where he hurls an ultimate 
obscenity at God, and the serpents immediately swarm over 
him, driving him off in great pain. The Centaur, CACUS, his 
back covered with serpents and a fire-eating dragon, also 
gives chase to punish the wretch. 

ENCE and sees the further retribution visited upon the sin- 
ners. Some of the thieves appear first in human form, others 
as reptiles. All but one of them suffer a painful transforma- 
tion before Dante's eyes. AGNELLO appears in human form 
and is merged with CIANFA, who appears as a six-legged 
lizard. BUOSO appears as a man and changes form with 
FRANCESCO, who first appears as a tiny reptile. Only PUC- 
CIO SCIANCATO remains unchanged, though we are made 
to understand that his turn will come. 

For endless and painful transformation is the final state of 
the thieves. In life they took the substance of others, trans- 
forming it into their own. So in Hell their very bodies are con- 
stantly being taken from them, and they are left to steal back a 
human form from some other sinner. Thus they waver con- 
stantly between man and reptile, and no sinner knows what to 
call his own. 

When he had finished, the thief — to his disgrace — 
raised his hands with both fists making figs, 
and cried: "Here, God! I throw them in your face!' 


Canto XXV 203 

Thereat the snakes became my friends, for one 

coiled itself about the wretch's neck 5 

as if it were saying: "You shall not go on!" 

and another tied his arms behind him again, 
knotting its head and tail between his loins 
so tight he could not move a finger in pain. 

Pistoia! Pistoia! why have you not decreed 10 

to turn yourself to ashes and end your days, 
rather than spread the evil of your seed! 

In all of Hell's corrupt and sunken halls 
I found no shade so arrogant toward God, 
not even him who fell from the Theban walls ! 1 5 

Without another word, he fled; and there 
I saw a furious Centaur race up, roaring: 
"Where is the insolent blasphemer? Where?" 

I do not think as many serpents swarm 

in all the Maremma as he bore on his back 20 

from the haunch to the first sign of our human form. 

Upon his shoulders, just behind his head 
a snorting dragon whose hot breath set fire 
to all it touched, lay with its wings outspread. 

My Guide said: "That is Cacus. Time and again 25 

in the shadow of Mount Aventine he made 
a lake of blood upon the Roman plain. 

He does not go with his kin by the blood-red fosse 
because of the cunning fraud with which he stole 
the cattle of Hercules. And thus it was 30 

his thieving stopped, for Hercules found his den 

and gave him perhaps a hundred blows with his club, 
and of them he did not feel the first ten." 

204 The Inferno 

Meanwhile, the Centaur passed along his way, 

and three wraiths came. Neither my Guide nor I 35 

knew they were there until we heard them say: 

"You there — who are you?" There our talk fell still 
and we turned to stare at them. I did not know them, 
but by chance it happened, as it often will, 

one named another. "Where is Cianfa?" he cried; 40 

"Why has he fallen back?" I placed a finger 
across my lips as a signal to my Guide. 

Reader, should you doubt what next I tell, 

it will be no wonder, for though I saw it happen, 

I can scarce believe it possible, even in Hell. 45 

For suddenly, as I watched, I saw a lizard 

come darting forward on six great taloned feet 
and fasten itself to a sinner from crotch to gizzard. 

Its middle feet sank in the sweat and grime 
of the wretch's paunch, its forefeet clamped his arms, 50 
its teeth bit through both cheeks. At the same time 

its hind feet fastened on the sinner's thighs: 
its tail thrust through his legs and closed its coil 
over his loins. I saw it with my own eyes! 

No ivy ever grew about a tree 55 

as tightly as that monster wove itself 
limb by limb about the sinner's body; 

they fused like hot wax, and their colors ran 
together until neither wretch nor monster 
appeared what he had been when he began: 60 

just so, before the running edge of the heat 
on a burning page, a brown discoloration 
changes to black as the white dies from the sheet. 

Canto XXV 205 

The other two cried out as they looked on: 

44 Alas ! Alas ! Agnello, how you change ! 65 

Already you are neither two nor one!" 

The two heads had already blurred and blended; 
now two new semblances appeared and faded, 
one face where neither face began nor ended. 

From the four upper limbs of man and beast 70 

two arms were made, then members never seen 
grew from the thighs and legs, belly and breast. 

Their former likenesses mottled and sank 

to something that was both of them and neither; 

and so transformed, it slowly left our bank. 75 

As lizards at high noon of a hot day 

dart out from hedge to hedge, from shade to shade, 
and flash like lightning when they cross the way, 

so toward the bowels of the other two, 

shot a small monster; livid, furious, 80 

and black as a pepper corn. Its lunge bit through 

that part of one of them from which man receives 
his earliest nourishment; then it fell back 
and lay sprawled out in front of the two thieves. 

Its victim stared at it but did not speak: 85 

indeed, he stood there like a post, and yawned 
as if lack of sleep, or a fever, had left him weak. 

The reptile stared at him, he at the reptile; 

from the wound of one and from the other's mouth 

two smokes poured out and mingled, dark and vile. 90 

Now let Lucan be still with his history 
of poor Sabellus and Nassidius, 
and wait to hear what next appeared to me. 

206 The Inferno 

Of Cadmus and Arethusa be Ovid silent. 

I have no need to envy him those verses 95 

where he makes one a fountain, and one a serpent: 

for he never transformed two beings face to face 
in such a way that both their natures yielded 
their elements each to each, as in this case. 

Responding sympathetically to each other, 100 

the reptile cleft his tail into a fork, 
and the wounded sinner drew his feet together. 

The sinner's legs and thighs began to join: 
they grew together so, that soon no trace 
of juncture could be seen from toe to loin. 105 

Point by point the reptile's cloven tail 
grew to the form of what the sinner lost; 
one skin began to soften, one to scale. 

The armpits swallowed the arms, and the short shank 

of the reptile's forefeet simultaneously 110 

lengthened by as much as the man's arms shrank. 

Its hind feet twisted round themselves and grew 
the member man conceals; meanwhile the wretch 
from his one member generated two. 

The smoke swelled up about them all the while: 115 

it tanned one skin and bleached the other; it stripped 
the hair from the man and grew it on the reptile. 

While one fell to his belly, the other rose 
without once shifting the locked evil eyes 
below which they changed snouts as they changed 

pose. 120 

The face of the standing one drew up and in 
toward the temples, and from the excess matter 
that gathered there, ears grew from the smooth skin; 

Canto XXV 207 

while of the matter left below the eyes 

the excess became a nose, at the same time 125 

forming the lips to an appropriate size. 

Here the face of the prostrate felon slips, 
sharpens into a snout, and withdraws its ears 
as a snail pulls in its horns. Between its lips 

the tongue, once formed for speech, thrusts out a fork; 1 30 
the forked tongue of the other heals and draws 
into his mouth. The smoke has done its work. 

The soul that had become a beast went flitting 
and hissing over the stones, and after it 
the other walked along talking and spitting. 1 35 

Then turning his new shoulders, said to the one 
that still remained: "It is Buoso's turn to go 
crawling along this road as I have done." 

Thus did the ballast of the seventh hold 

shift and reshift; and may the strangeness of it 140 

excuse my pen if the tale is strangely told. 

And though all this confused me, they did not flee 
so cunningly but what I was aware 
that it was Puccio Sciancato alone of the three 

that first appeared, who kept his old form still. 145 

The other was he for whom you weep, Gaville. 



Dante's concise treatment and the various transformations which 
the thieves undergo may lead to some confusion. It is worth not- 
ing that none of these thieves is important as an individual, and, in 

208 The Inferno 

fact, that very little is known of the lives of these sinners beyond the 
sufficient fact that they were thieves 

The first three appear in line 35 and hail the Poets rather inso- 
lently. They are Agnello Brunelleschi (Ah-NYELL-oh Broo-nell- 
AY-skee), Buoso (BWOE-soe) degli Abati, and Puccio Sciancato. 
They have been walking along with Cianfa de' Donati (TCHAHN- 
fa day Don-AH-tee), but they suddenly miss him and ask about him 
with some concern. The careful reader will sense that a sudden dis- 
appearance is cause for very special concern in this bolgia, and sure 
enough, Cianfa suddenly reappears in the form of a six-legged 
lizard. His body has been taken from him and he is driven by a con- 
suming desire to be rid of his reptilian form as fast as possible. He 
immediately fixes himself upon Agnello and merges his lizard body 
with Agnello's human form. (A possible symbolic interpretation is 
that Cianfa is dividing the pains of Hell with a fellow thief, as on 
earth he might have divided the loot.) 

Immediately after Cianfa and Agnello go off together, a tiny rep- 
tile bites Buoso degli Abati and exchanges forms with him. The 
reptile is Francesco dei Cavalcanti. (Here the symbolism is obvious: 
the thieves must steal from one another the very shapes in which 
they appear.) 

Thus only Puccio Sciancato (POO-tchoe Shahn-KAH-toe) is left 
unchanged for the time being. 

2. figs: An obscene gesture made by closing the hand into a fist 
with the thumb protruding between the first and second fingers. The 
fig is an ancient symbol for the vulva, and the protruding thumb is 
an obvious phallic symbol. The gesture is still current in Italy and 
has lost none of its obscene significance since Dante's time. 

25. Cacus: The son of Vulcan. He lived in a cave at the foot of 
Mount Aventine, from which he raided the herds of the cattle of Her- 
cules, which pastured on the Roman plain. Hercules clubbed him to 
death for his thievery, beating him in rage long after he was dead. 
Cacus is condemned to the lower pit for his greater crime, instead of 
guarding Phlegethon with his brother Centaurs. Virgil, however, did 
not describe him as a Centaur (v. Aeneid, VIII, 193-267). Dante's 
interpretation of him is probably based on the fact that Virgil re- 
ferred to him as ''half-human." 

82. that part: The navel. 

( onto XXV 209 

9\ ff. let Lucan be still, eU In Pharsalia (IX 761 ff.)L« 
latcs how Sabellus and Na isidii] 

across the Libyan desert, were bitten by moi 
into a puddk: and Nas i < J i u s swelled until he popped hi . coal of mail 
In his Metamorphoses, Ovid wrote ho * -j into a 

serpent (IV, 562 603) and hov. Arethusa was changed into a foun- 
tain (V, 572-661). 

Dante cites these cases, obvious] v. that he may boast of how 
much belter I ag to handle the whole matter of transforma- 

tion. The master knows his own mastery and sees no real point in be- 
ing modest about it 

146. he for whom you weep, Gaville Francesco dei Cavalcanti. 

He was killed by the people of Gaville (a Milage in the Vail-; 
Arno). His kinsmen rallied immediate!) to avenge his death, and 
many of the townsmen of Gaville were killed in the resulting feud. 

Canto XXVI 

circle eight: bolgia eight The Evil Counselors 

' Dante turns from the Thieves toward the EVILCOUNSELORS 
of the next Bolgia, and between the two he addresses a pas- 
sionate lament to Florence prophesying the griefs that will 
befall her from these two sins. At the purported time of the 
Vision, it will be recalled, Dante was a Chief Magistrate of 
Florence and was forced into exile by men he had reason 
to consider both thieves and evil counselors. He seems 
prompted, in fact, to say much more on this score, but he re- 
strains himself when he comes in sight of the sinners of the 
next Bolgia, for they are a moral symbolism, all men of gift 
who abused their genius, perverting it to wiles and strata- 
gems. Seeing them in Hell he knows his must be another 
road: his way shall not be by deception. 

So the Poets move on and Dante observes the EIGHTH 
BOLGIA in detail. Here the EVIL COUNSELORS move about 
endlessly, hidden from view inside great flames. Their sin was 
to abuse the gifts of the Almighty, to steal HIS virtues for 
low purposes. And as they stole from God in their lives and 
worked by hidden ways, so are they stolen from sight and hid- 
den in the great flames which are their own guilty con- 
sciences. And as, in most instances at least, they sinned by 
glibness of tongue, so are the flames made into a fiery trav- 
esty of tongues. 

Among the others, the Poets see a great doubleheaded 
flame, and discover that ULYSSES and DIOMEDE are pun- 
ished together within it. Virgil addresses the flame, and 
through its wavering tongue Ulysses narrates an unforget- 
table tale of his last voyage and death. 


Canto XXVI 211 

Joy to you, Florence, that your banners swell, 
beating their proud wings over land and sea, 
and that your name expands through all of Hell! 

Among the thieves I found five who had been 

your citizens, to my shame; nor yet shall you 5 

mount to great honor peopling such a den! 

But if the truth is dreamed of toward the morning, 
you soon shall feel what Prato and the others 
wish for you. And were that day of mourning 

already come it would not be too soon. 10 

So may it come, since it must! for it will weigh 
more heavily on me as I pass my noon. 

We left that place. My Guide climbed stone by stone 
the natural stair by which we had descended 
and drew me after him. So we passed on, 15 

and going our lonely way through that dead land 
among the crags and crevices of the cliff, 
the foot could make no way without the hand. 

I mourned among those rocks, and I mourn again 

when memory returns to what I saw: 20 

and more than usually I curb the strain 

of my genius, lest it stray from Virtue's course; 
so if some star, or a better thing, grant me merit, 
may I not find the gift cause for remorse. 

As many fireflies as the peasant sees 25 

when he rests on a hill and looks into the valley 
(where he tills or gathers grapes or prunes his trees) 

in that sweet season when the face of him 

who lights the world rides north, and at the hour 

when the fly yields to the gnat and the air grows dim — 30 

212 The Inferno 

such myriads of flames I saw shine through 
the gloom of the eighth abyss when I arrived 
at the rim from which its bed comes into view. 

As he the bears avenged so fearfully 

beheld Elijah's chariot depart — 35 

the horses rise toward heaven — but could not see 

more than the flame, a cloudlet in the sky, 
once it had risen — so within the fosse 
only those flames, forever passing by 

were visible, ahead, to right, to left; 40 

for though each steals a sinner's soul from view 
not one among them leaves a trace of the theft. 

I stood on the bridge, and leaned out from the edge; 
so far, that but for a jut of rock I held to 
I should have been sent hurtling from the ledge 45 

without being pushed. And seeing me so intent, 

my Guide said: "There are souls within those flames; 
each sinner swathes himself in his own torment." 

"Master," I said, "your words make me more sure, 
but I had seen already that it was so 50 

and meant to ask what spirit must endure 

the pains of that great flame which splits away 
in two great horns, as if it rose from the pyre 
where Eteocles and Polynices lay?" 

He answered me: "Forever round this path 55 

Ulysses and Diomede move in such dress, 
united in pain as once they were in wrath; 

there they lament the ambush of the Horse 

which was the door through which the noble seed 

of the Romans issued from its holy source; 60 

Canto XXVI 213 

there they mourn that for Achilles slain 
sweet Deidamia weeps even in death; 
there they recall the Palladium in their pain." 

"Master," I cried, "I pray you and repray 

till my prayer becomes a thousand — if these souls 65 

can still speak from the fire, oh let me stay 

until the flame draws near! Do not deny me: 
You see how fervently I long for it!" 
And he to me: "Since what you ask is worthy, 

it shall be. But be still and let me speak; 70 

for I know your mind already, and they perhaps 
might scorn your manner of speaking, since they were Greek." 

And when the flame had come where time and place 
seemed fitting to my Guide, I heard him say 
these words to it: "O you two souls who pace 75 

together in one flame! — if my days above 
won favor in your eyes, if I have earned 
however much or little of your love 

in writing my High Verses, do not pass by, 

but let one of you be pleased to tell where he, 80 

having disappeared from the known world, went to die." 

As if it fought the wind, the greater prong 
of the ancient flame began to quiver and hum; 
then moving its tip as if it were the tongue 

that spoke, gave out a voice above the roar. 85 

"When I left Circe," it said, "who more than a year 
detained me near Gaeta long before 

Aeneas came and gave the place that name, 
not fondness for my son, nor reverence 
for my aged father, nor Penelope's claim 90 

214 The Inferno 

to the joys of love, could drive out of my mind 
the lust to experience the far-flung world 
and the failings and felicities of mankind. 

I put out on the high and open sea 

with a single ship and only those few souls 95 

who stayed true when the rest deserted me. 

As far as Morocco and as far as Spain 
I saw both shores; and I saw Sardinia 
and the other islands of the open main. 

I and my men were stiff and slow with age 100 

when we sailed at last into the narrow pass 
where, warning all men back from further voyage, 

Hercules' Pillars rose upon our sight. 
Already I had left Ceuta on the left; 
Seville now sank behind me on the right. 105 

'Shipmates,' I said, 'who through a hundred thousand 
perils have reached the West, do not deny 
to the brief remaining watch our senses stand 

experience of the world beyond the sun. 

Greeks ! You were not born to live like brutes, 1 1 

but to press on toward manhood and recognition!' 

With this brief exhortation I made my crew 
so eager for the voyage I could hardly 
have held them back from it when I was through; 

and turning our stem toward morning, our bow toward night, 1 1 5 
we bore southwest out of the world of man; 
we made wings of our oars for our fool's flight. 

That night we raised the other pole ahead 
with all its stars, and ours had so declined 
it did not rise out of its ocean bed. 120 

Canto XXVI 215 

Five times since we had dipped our bending oars 
beyond the world, the light beneath the moon 
had waxed and waned, when dead upon our course 

we sighted, dark in space, a peak so tall 

I doubted any man had seen the like. 125 

Our cheers were hardly sounded, when a squall 

broke hard upon our bow from the new land: 
three times it sucked the ship and the sea about 
as it pleased Another to order and command. 

At the fourth, the poop rose and the bow went down 130 

till the sea closed over us and the light was gone." 


7. if the truth is dreamed of toward the morning: A semi -proverbial 
expression. It was a common belief that those dreams that occur just 
before waking foretell the future. "Morning" here would equal both 
"the rude awakening" and the potential "dawn of a new day." 

8. Prato: Not the neighboring town (which was on good terms 
with Florence) but Cardinal Niccolo da Prato, papal legate from 
Benedict XI to Florence. In 1304 he tried to reconcile the warring 
factions, but found that neither side would accept mediation. Since 
none would be blessed, he cursed all impartially and laid the city un- 
der an interdict (i.e., forbade the offering of the sacraments). Shortly 
after this rejection by the Church, a bridge collapsed in Florence, 
and later a great fire broke out. Both disasters cost many lives, and 
both were promptly attributed to the Papal curse. 

34. he the bears avenged: Elisha saw Elijah translated to Heaven 
in a fiery chariot. Later he was mocked by some children, who 
called out tauntingly that he should "Go up" as Elijah had. Elisha 
cursed the children in the name of the Lord, and bears came sud- 
denly upon the children and devoured them. {II Kings, ii, 1 1-24.) 

53-54. the pyre where Eteocles and Polynices lay: Eteocles and 
Polynices, sons of Oedipus, succeeded jointly to the throne of 

216 The Inferno 

Thebes, and came to an agreement whereby each one would rule 
separately for a year at a time. Eteocles ruled the first year and when 
he refused to surrender the throne at the appointed time, Polynices 
led the Seven against Thebes in a bloody war. In single combat the 
two brothers killed one another. Statius (Thebaid, XII, 429 ff.) 
wrote that their mutual hatred was so great that when they were 
placed on the same funeral pyre the very flame of their burning drew 
apart in two great raging horns. 

56-63. Ulysses and Diomede, etc.: They suffer here for their 
joint guilt in counseling and carrying out many stratagems which 
Dante considered evil, though a narrator who was less passionately 
a partisan of the Trojans might have thought their actions justifiable 
methods of warfare. They are in one flame for their joint guilt, but 
the flame is divided, perhaps to symbolize the moral that men of evil 
must sooner or later come to a falling out, for there can be no lasting 
union except by virtue. 

Their first sin was the stratagem of the Wooden Horse, as a result 
of which Troy fell and Aeneas went forth to found the Roman line. 
The second evil occurred at Scyros. There Ulysses discovered 
Achilles in female disguise, hidden by his mother, Thetis, so that he 
would not be taken off to the war. Deidamia was in love with 
Achilles and had borne him a son. When Ulysses persuaded her 
lover to sail for Troy, she died of grief. The third count is Ulysses' 
theft of the sacred statue of Pallas from the Palladium. Upon the 
statue, it was believed, depended the fate of Troy. Its theft, therefore, 
would result in Troy's downfall. 

72. since they were Greek: Dante knew no Greek, and these sin- 
ners might scorn him, first, because he spoke what to them would 
seem a barbarous tongue, and second, because as an Italian he 
would seem a descendant of Aeneas and the defeated Trojans. Vir- 
gil, on the other hand, appeals to them as a man of virtuous life (who 
therefore has a power over sin) and as a poet who celebrated their 
earthly fame. (Prof. MacAllister suggests another meaning as well: 
that Dante [and his world] had no direct knowledge of the Greeks, 
knowing their works through Latin intermediaries. Thus Virgil 
stood between Homer and Dante.) 

80-8 1 . one of you: Ulysses. He is the figure in the larger horn of 
the flame (which symbolizes that his guilt, as leader, is greater than 

Canto XXVI 217 

that of Diomede). His memorable account of his last voyage and 
death is purely Dante's invention. 

86. Circe: Changed Ulysses' men to swine and kept him a pris- 
oner, though with rather exceptional accommodations. 

87. Gaeta: Southeastern Italian coastal town. According to Virgil 
(Aeneid, VII, 1 ff.) it was earlier named Caieta by Aeneas in honor 
of his aged nurse. 

90. Penelope: Ulysses' wife. 

98. both shores: Of the Mediterranean. 

101. narrow pass: The Straits of Gilbraltar, formerly called the 
Pillars of Hercules. They were presumed to be the Western limit be- 
yond which no man could navigate. 

104. Ceuta: In Africa, opposite Gibraltar. 

105. Seville: In Dante's time this was the name given to the gen- 
eral region of Spain. Having passed through the Straits, the men are 
now in the Atlantic. 

115. morning . . . night: East and West. 

1 1 8. we raised the other pole ahead: I.e., they drove south across 
the equator, observed the southern stars, and found that the North 
Star had sunk below the horizon. The altitude of the North Star is the 
easiest approximation of latitude. Except for a small correction, it is 
directly overhead at the North Pole, shows an altitude of 45° at 
North latitude 45, and is on the horizon at the equator. 

124. apeak: Purgatory. They sight it after five months of passage. 
According to Dante's geography, the Northern hemisphere is land 
and the Southern is all water except for the Mountain of Purgatory 
which rises above the surface at a point directly opposite Jerusalem. 

Canto XXVII 



g the great flame 


2€ _r.c muffled : 5 

ich it burned 

ad tuned :: — 

aies 10 

: • 

Canto XXVU 219 

so lacking any way through or around 

the fire that sealed them in, the mournful words 

were changed into its language. When they found 1 5 

their way up to the tip, imparting to it 

the same vibration given them in their passage 
over the tongue of the concealed sad spirit, 

we heard it say: "O you at whom I aim 

my voice, and who were speaking Lombard, saying: 20 
4 Go now, I ask no more/ just as I came — 

though I may come a bit late to my turn, 

may it not annoy you to pause and speak a while: 
you see it does not annoy me — and I burn. 

If you have fallen only recently 25 

to this blind world from that sweet Italy 
where I acquired my guilt, I pray you, tell me: 

is there peace or war in Romagna? for on earth 
I too was of those hills between Urbino 
and the fold from which the Tiber springs to birth." 30 

I was still staring at it from the dim 

edge of the pit when my Guide nudged me, saying: 
"This one is Italian; you speak to him." 

My answer was framed already; without pause 

I spoke these words to it: "O hidden soul, 35 

your sad Romagna is not and never was 

without war in her tyrants' raging blood; 
but none flared openly when I left just now. 
Ravenna's fortunes stand as they have stood 

these many years: Polenta's eagles brood 40 

over her walls, and their pinions cover Cervia. 
The city that so valiantly withstood 

220 The Inferno 

the French, and raised a mountain of their dead, 
feels the Green Claws again. Still in Verrucchio 
the Aged Mastiff and his Pup, who shed 45 

Montagna's blood, raven in their old ranges. 
The cities of Lamone and Santerno 
are led by the white den's Lion, he who changes 

his politics with the compass. And as the city 

the Savio washes lies between plain and mountain, 50 
so it lives between freedom and tyranny. 

Now, I beg you, let us know your name; 
do not be harder than one has been to you; 
so, too, you will preserve your earthly fame." 

And when the flame had roared a while beneath 55 

the ledge on which we stood, it swayed its tip 
to and fro, and then gave forth this breath: 

"If I believed that my reply were made 
to one who could ever climb to the world again, 
this flame would shake no more. But since no shade 60 

ever returned — if what I am told is true — 
from this blind world into the living light, 
without fear of dishonor I answer you. 

I was a man of arms: then took the rope 

of the Franciscans, hoping to make amends: 65 

and surely I should have won to all my hope 

but for the Great Priest — may he rot in Hell ! — 
who brought me back to all my earlier sins; 
and how and why it happened I wish to tell 

in my own words: while I was still encased 70 

in the pulp and bone my mother bore, my deeds 
were not of the lion but of the fox: I raced 

Canto XXVII 221 

through tangled ways; all wiles were mine from birth, 
and I won to such advantage with my arts 
that rumor of me reached the ends of the earth. 75 

But when I saw before me all the signs 
of the time of life that cautions every man 
to lower his sail and gather in his lines, 

that which had pleased me once, troubled my spirit, 

and penitent and confessed, I became a monk. 80 

Alas! What joy I might have had of it! 

It was then the Prince of the New Pharisees drew 
his sword and marched upon the Lateran — 
and not against the Saracen or the Jew, 

for every man that stood against his hand 85 

was a Christian soul: not one had warred on Acre, 
nor been a trader in the Sultan's land. 

It was he abused his sacred vows and mine: 
his Office and the Cord I wore, which once 
made those it girded leaner. As Constantine 90 

sent for Silvestro to cure his leprosy, 
seeking him out among Soracte's cells; 
so this one from his great throne sent for me 

to cure the fever of pride that burned his blood. 

He demanded my advice, and I kept silent 95 

for his words seemed drunken to me. So it stood 

until he said: "Your soul need fear no wound; 

I absolve your guilt beforehand; and now teach me 
how to smash Penestrino to the ground. 

The Gates of Heaven, as you know, are mine 1 00 

to open and shut, for I hold the two Great Keys 
so easily let go by Celestine." 

222 The Inferno 

His weighty arguments led me to fear 

silence was worse than sin. Therefore, I said: 

"Holy Father, since you clean me here 105 

of the guilt into which I fall, let it be done: 
long promise and short observance is the road 
that leads to the sure triumph of your throne." 

Later, when I was dead, St. Francis came 
to claim my soul, but one of the Black Angels 1 10 

said: 'Leave him. Do not wrong me. This one's name 

went into my book the moment he resolved 
to give false counsel. Since then he has been mine, 
for who does not repent cannot be absolved; 

nor can we admit the possibility 115 

of repenting a thing at the same time it is willed, 
for the two acts are contradictory.' 

Miserable me! with what contrition 

I shuddered when he lifted me, saying: 'Perhaps 

you hadn't heard that I was a logician.' 120 

He carried me to Minos: eight times round 
his scabby back the monster coiled his tail, 
then biting it in rage he pawed the ground 

and cried: 'This one is for the thievish fire!' 

And, as you see, I am lost accordingly, 125 

grieving in heart as I go in this attire." 

His story told, the flame began to toss 
and writhe its horn. And so it left, and we 
crossed over to the arch of the next fosse 

where from the iron treasury of the Lord 1 30 

the fee of wrath is paid the Sowers of Discord. 

Canto XXVII 223 


3. with the sweet Poets license: The legend of Virgil as a magi- 
cian and sorcerer was widespread through the Middle Ages and was 
probably based on the common belief that his Fourth Eclogue was a 
specific prophecy of the birth of Christ and of the Christian Era. 
Some commentators have argued as an extension of this legend that 
Dante assigns Virgil a magical power of conjuration over the 
damned, a power of white rather than black magic — that distinction 
being necessary to save him from damnation. Despite the fact that 
Dante nowhere makes that distinction himself, this interpretation 
can be made plausible, but only in the most incidental way. The 
whole idea of Virgil as a magician is trivial beside Dante's total con- 
cept. Virgil's power is divinely given him by Beatrice. That is, it 
represents Human Reason informed and commanded by Divine 
Love, a reassertion of a fundamental medieval theme that reason is 
the handmaiden of faith. His power is God's will and is most clearly 
expressed in his words to Minos: "This has been willed where what 
is willed must be." Only with this light within it can reason exert its 
power over evil. 

3. another came: Guido da Montefeltro ( 1 223-1298). As head of 
the Ghibellines of Romagna, he was reputed the wisest and cun- 
ningest man in Italy. 

7. the Sicilian bull: In the sixth century B.C. Perillus of Athens 
constructed for Phalaris, Tyrant of Sicily, a metal bull to be used as 
an instrument of torture. When victims were placed inside it and 
roasted to death, their screams passed through certain tuned pipes 
and emerged as a burlesque bellowing of the bull. Phalaris accepted 
delivery and showed his gratitude by appointing the inventor the 
bull's first victim. Later Phalaris was overthrown, and he, too, took 
his turn inside the bull. 

2 1 . Go now, I ask no more: These are the words with which Virgil 
dismisses Ulysses and Diomede, his "license." 

29-30. V rhino and the fold from which the Tiber, etc.: Romagna 
is the district that runs south from the Po along the east side of the 
Apennines. Urbino is due east of Florence and roughly south of 
Rimini. Between Urbino and Florence rise the Coronaro Mountains 
which contain the headwaters of the Tiber. 

224 The Inferno 

39-41. Ravenna . . . Polenta's eagles . . . Cervia: In 1300 Ravenna 
was ruled by Guido Vecchio da Polenta, father of Francesca da Rim- 
ini. His arms bore an eagle and his domain included the small city of 
Cervia about twelve miles south of Ravenna. 

42-44. The city ...the Green Claws: The city is Forli. In 1282 
Guido da Montefeltro defended Forli from the French, but in 1 300 it 
was under the despotic rule of Sinibaldo degli Ordelaffi, whose 
arms were a green lion. 

44-45. Verrucchio . . . the Aged Mastiff and his Pup . . . Mon- 
tagna: Verrucchio ( Vehr-OO-Kyoe) was the castle of Malatesta and 
his son Malatestino, Lords of Rimini, whom Dante calls dogs for 
their cruelty. Montagna de' Parcitati (Mon-TAH-nyah day Pahr- 
tchit-AH-tee), the leader of Rimini's Ghibellines, was captured by 
Malatesta in 1295 and murdered in captivity by Malatestino. 

47-48. Lamone and Santerno . . . the white dens Lion: Magi- 
nardo (Mah-djin-AHR-doe) de' Pagani (died 1302) ruled Faenza, 
on the River Lamone, and Imola, close by the River Santerno. His 
arms were a blue lion on a white field (hence "the Lion from the 
white den"). He supported the Ghibellines in the north, but the 
Guelphs in the south (Florence), changing his politics according to 
the direction in which he was facing. 

49-50. the city the Savio washes: Cesena. It ruled itself for a 
number of years, but was taken over by Malatestino in 1314. It lies 
between Forli and Rimini. 

67. the Great Priest: Boniface VIII, so called as Pope. 

82. the Prince of the New Pharisees: Also Boniface. 

83. marched upon the Lateran: Boniface had had a long-standing 
feud with the Colonna family. In 1297 the Colonna walled them- 
selves in a castle twenty-five miles east of Rome at Penestrino (now 
called Palestrina) in the Lateran. On Guido's advice the Pope of- 
fered a fair-sounding amnesty which he had no intention of observ- 
ing When the Colonna accepted the terms and left the castle, the 
Pope destroyed it, leaving the Colonna without a refuge. 

86-87. Acre . . . trader in the Sultans land: It was the Saracens 
who opposed the crusaders at Acre, the Jews who traded in the Sul- 
tan's land. 

Canto XXVII 225 

90-92. Constantine . . . Silvestro . . . Soracte: In the persecutions 
of the Christians by the Emperor Constantine, Pope Sylvester I took 
refuge in the caves of Mount Soracte near Rome. (It is now called 
Santo Oreste.) Later, according to legend, Constantine was stricken 
by leprosy and sent for Sylvester, who cured him and converted him 
to Christianity, in return for which the Emperor was believed to 
have made the famous "Donation of Constantine." (See Canto 

102. so easily let go by Celestine: Celestine V under the persua- 
sion of Boniface abdicated the Papacy. (See Canto III notes.) 

107. long promise and short observance: This is the advice upon 
which Boniface acted in trapping the Colonna with his hypocritical 

109. St. Francis came: To gather in the soul of one of his monks. 

MO. Black Angel: Adevil. 

130-131. I have taken liberties with these lines in the hope of 
achieving a reasonably tonic final couplet. The literal reading is: "In 
which the fee is paid to those who, sowing discord, acquire weight 
(of guilt and pain)." 



circle eight: bolgia nine The Sowers of Discord 

The Poets come to the edge of the NINTH BOLGIA and look 
down at a parade of hideously mutilated souls. These are the 
SOWERS OF DISCORD, and just as their sin was to rend 
asunder what God had meant to be united, so are they hacked 
and torn through all eternity by a great demon with a bloody 
sword. After each mutilation the souls are compelled to drag 
their broken bodies around the pit and to return to the demon, 
for in the course of the circuit their wounds knit in time to be 
inflicted anew. Thus is the law of retribution observed, each 
sinner suffering according to his degree. 

Among them Dante distinguishes three classes with varying 
degrees of guilt within each class. First come the SOWERS OF 
RELIGIOUS DISCORD. Mahomet is chief among them, and 
appears first, cleft from crotch to chin, with his internal organs 
dangling between his legs. His son-in-law, Ali, drags on ahead 
of him, cleft from topknot to chin. These reciprocal wounds 
symbolize Dante s judgment that, between them, these two 
sum up the total schism between Christianity and Moham- 
medanism. The revolting details of Mahomet s condition clearly 
imply Dante s opinion of that doctrine. Mahomet issues an 
ironic warning to another schismatic, FRA DOLCINO. 

among them PIER DA MEDICINA, the Tribune CURIO, and 
MOSCA DEI LAMBERTI, each mutilated according to the 
nature of his sin. 

CORD BETWEEN KINSMEN. He separated father from son, 
and for that offense carries his head separated from his body, 


Canto XXVIII 227 

holding it with one hand by the hair, and swinging it as if it 
were a lantern to light his dark and endless way. The image 
ofBertrand raising his head at arm's length in order that it 
might speak more clearly to the Poets on the ridge is one of 
the most memorable in the Inferno. For some reason that 
cannot be ascertained, Dante makes these sinners quite ea- 
ger to be remembered in the world, despite the fact that many 
who lie above them in Hell were unwilling to be recognized. 

Who could describe, even in words set free 

of metric and rhyme and a thousand times retold, 
the blood and wounds that now were shown to me! 

At grief so deep the tongue must wag in vain; 

the language of our sense and memory 5 

lacks the vocabulary of such pain. 

If one could gather all those who have stood 
through all of time on Puglia's fateful soil 
and wept for the red running of their blood 

in the war of the Trojans; and in that long war 10 

which left so vast a spoil of golden rings, 
as we find written in Livy, who does not err; 

along with those whose bodies felt the wet 

and gaping wounds of Robert Guiscard's lances; 

with all the rest whose bones are gathered yet 1 5 

at Ceperano where every last Pugliese 

turned traitor; and with those from Tagliacozzo 
where Alardo won without weapons — if all these 

were gathered, and one showed his limbs run through, 
another his lopped off, that could not equal 20 

the mutilations of the ninth pit's crew. 

A wine tun when a stave or cant-bar starts 
does not split open as wide as one I saw 
split from his chin to the mouth with which man farts. 

228 The Inferno 

Between his legs all of his red guts hung 25 

with the heart, the lungs, the liver, the gall bladder, 
and the shriveled sac that passes shit to the bung. 

I stood and stared at him from the stone shelf; 
he noticed me and opening his own breast 
with both hands cried: "See how I rip myself! 30 

See how Mahomet's mangled and split open! 
Ahead of me walks Ali in his tears, 
his head cleft from the topknot to the chin. 

And all the other souls that bleed and mourn 

along this ditch were sowers of scandal and schism: 35 
as they tore others apart, so are they torn. 

Behind us, warden of our mangled horde, 

the devil who butchers us and sends us marching 
waits to renew our wounds with his long sword 

when we have made the circuit of the pit; 40 

for by the time we stand again before him 
all the wounds he gave us last have knit. 

But who are you that gawk down from that sill — 
probably to put off your own descent 
to the pit you are sentenced to for your own evil?" 45 

"Death has not come for him, guilt does not drive 
his soul to torment," my sweet Guide replied. 
"That he may experience all while yet alive 

I, who am dead, must lead him through the drear 

and darkened halls of Hell, from round to round: 50 

and this is true as my own standing here." 

More than a hundred wraiths who were marching under 
the sill on which we stood, paused at his words 
and stared at me, forgetting pain in wonder. 

Canto XXVIII 229 

"And if you do indeed return to see 55 

the sun again, and soon, tell Fra Dolcino 
unless he longs to come and march with me 

he would do well to check his groceries 
before the winter drives him from the hills 
and gives the victory to the Novarese." 60 

Mahomet, one foot raised, had paused to say 

these words to me. When he had finished speaking 
he stretched it out and down, and moved away. 

Another — he had his throat slit, and his nose 

slashed off as far as the eyebrows, and a wound 65 

where one of his ears had been — standing with those 

who stared at me in wonder from the pit, 
opened the grinning wound of his red gullet 
as if it were a mouth, and said through it: 

"O soul unforfeited to misery 70 

and whom — unless I take you for another — 
I have seen above in our sweet Italy; 

if ever again you see the gentle plain 

that slopes down from Vercelli to Marcabo, 

remember Pier da Medicina in pain, 75 

and announce this warning to the noblest two 
of Fano, Messers Guido and Angiolello: 
that unless our foresight sees what is not true 

they shall be thrown from their ships into the sea 

and drown in the raging tides near La Cattolica 80 

to satisfy a tyrant's treachery. 

Neptune never saw so gross a crime 
in all the seas from Cyprus to Majorca, 
not even in pirate raids, nor the Argive time. 

230 The Inferno 

The one-eyed traitor, lord of the demesne 85 

whose hill and streams one who walks here beside me 
will wish eternally he had never seen, 

will call them to a parley, but behind 
sweet invitations he will work it so 
they need not pray against Focara's wind." 90 

And I to him: "If you would have me bear 

your name to time, show me the one who found 
the sight of that land so harsh, and let me hear 

his story and his name." He touched the cheek 

of one nearby, forcing the jaws apart, 95 

and said: "This is the one; he cannot speak. 

This outcast settled Caesar's doubts that day 
beside the Rubicon by telling him: 
'A man prepared is a man hurt by delay.' " 

Ah, how wretched Curio seemed to me 100 

with a bloody stump in his throat in place of the tongue 
which once had dared to speak so recklessly ! 

And one among them with both arms hacked through 
cried out, raising his stumps on the foul air 
while the blood bedaubed his face: "Remember, too, 105 

Mosca dei Lamberti, alas, who said 

4 A thing done has an end!' and with those words 
planted the fields of war with Tuscan dead." 

"And brought about the death of all your clan!" 

I said, and he, stung by new pain on pain, 1 10 

ran off; and in his grief he seemed a madman. 

I stayed to watch those broken instruments, 
and I saw a thing so strange I should not dare 
to mention it without more evidence 

Canto XXVIII 231 

but that my own clear conscience strengthens me, 1 1 5 

that good companion that upholds a man 
within the armor of his purity. 

I saw it there; I seem to see it still — 

a body without a head, that moved along 

like all the others in that spew and spill. 120 

It held the severed head by its own hair, 
swinging it like a lantern in its hand; 
and the head looked at us and wept in its despair. 

It made itself a lamp of its own head, 

and they were two in one and one in two; 1 25 

how this can be, He knows who so commanded. 

And when it stood directly under us 

it raised the head at arm's length toward our bridge 
the better to be heard, and swaying thus 

it cried: "O living soul in this abyss, 130 

see what a sentence has been passed upon me, 
and search all Hell for one to equal this ! 

When you return to the world, remember me: 
I am Bertrand de Born, and it was I 
who set the young king on to mutiny, 1 35 

son against father, father against son 
as Achitophel set Absalom and David; 
and since I parted those who should be one 

in duty and in love, I bear my brain 

divided from its source within this trunk; 140 

and walk here where my evil turns to pain, 

an eye for an eye to all eternity: 

thus is the law of Hell observed in me." 

232 The Inferno 


8. Puglia (POO-lyah): I have used the modern name but some of 
the events Dante narrates took place in the ancient province of Apu- 
lia. Tne southeastern area of Italy is the scene of all the fighting 
Dante mentions in the following passage. It is certainly a bloody 
total of slaughter that Dante calls upon to illustrate his scene. 

1 0. the war of the Trojans: The Romans (descended from the Tro- 
jans) fought the native Samnites in a long series of raids and skir- 
mishes from 343-290 B.C. 

10-12. and in that long war . . . Livy: The Punic Wars (264-146 
B.C.). Livy writes that in the battle of Cannae (216 B.C.) so many Ro- 
mans fell that Hannibal gathered three bushels of gold rings from 
the fingers of the dead and produced them before the Senate at 

14. Robert Guiscard: Dante places Guiscard (1015-1085) in the 
Paradiso among the Warriors of God. He fought the Greeks and 
Saracens in their attempted invasion of Italy. 

16. Ceperano (Tcheh-peh-RAH-noe): In 1266 the Pugliese under 
Manfred, King of Sicily, were charged with holding the pass at 
Ceperano against Charles of Anjou. The Pugliese, probably under 
Papal pressure, allowed the French free passage, and Charles went 
on to defeat Manfred at Benevento. Manfred himself was killed in 
that battle. 

17-1 8. Tagliacozzo . . . Alardo: At Tagliacozzo (Tah-lyah-KAW- 
tsoe) (1268) in a continuation of the same strife, Charles of Anjou 
used a stratagem suggested to him by Alard de Valery and defeated 
Conradin, nephew of Manfred. "Won without weapons" is certainly 
an overstatement: what Alardo suggested was a simple but effective 
concealment of reserve troops. When Conradin seemed to have car- 
ried the day and was driving his foes before him, the reserve troops 
broke on his flank and rear, and defeated Conradin's out-positioned 

32. Ali: Ali succeeded Mahomet to the Caliphate, but not until 
three of the disciples had preceded him. Mahomet died in 632, and 
Ali did not assume the Caliphate until 656. 

Canto XXVUf 233 

56. Fra Dolcino (Dohl-TCHEE-noe): In 1300 Fra Dolcino took 
over the reformist order called the Apostolic Brothers, who preached, 
among other things, the community of property and of women. 
Clement V declared them heretical and ordered a crusade against 
them. The brotherhood retired with its women to an impregnable 
position in the hills between Novara and Vercelli, but their supplies 
gave out in the course of a year-long siege, and they were finally 
starved out in March of 1307. Dolcino and Margaret of Trent, his 
"Sister in Christ," were burned at the stake at Vercelli the following 

74. Vercelli . . . Marcabd: Vercelli is the most western town in 
Lombardy. Marcabd stands near the mouth of the Po. 

76-90. this warning: Malatestino da Rimini (see preceding 
Canto), in a move to annex the city of Fano, invited Guido del 
Cassero and Angioletto da Carignano (Ahn-djoe-LEH-toe dan 
Kahr-ee-NYAH-noe), leading citizens of Fano, to a conference at 
La Cattolica, a point on the Adriatic midway between Fano and Rim- 
ini. At Malatestino's orders the two were thrown overboard off Fo- 
cara, a headland swept by such dangerous currents that approaching 
sailors used to offer prayers for a safe crossing. 

83. Cyprus . . . Majorca: These islands are at opposite ends of the 

84. nor the Argive time: The Greeks were raiders and pirates. 

85. the one-eyed traitor: Malatestino. 

86. one who walks here beside me: This is the Roman Tribune 
Curio, who was banished from Rome by Pompey and joined Cae- 
sar's forces, advising him to cross the Rubicon, which was then the 
boundary between Gaul and the Roman Republic. The crossing 
constituted invasion, and thus began the Roman Civil War. The Ru- 
bicon flows near Rimini. 

106. Mosca dei Lamberti: Dante had asked Ciacco (Canto VI) for 
news of Mosca as a man of good works. Now he finds him, his merit 
canceled by his greater sin. Buondelmonte dei Buondelmonti had 
insulted the honor of the Amidei by breaking off his engagement to 
a daughter of that line in favor of a girl of the Donati. When the 
Amidei met to discuss what should be done, Mosca spoke for the 

234 The Inferno 

death of Buondelmonte. The Amidei acted upon his advice and from 
that murder sprang the bloody feud between the Guelphs and Ghib- 
ellines of Florence. 

119. a body without a head: Bertrand de Born (1140-1215), a 
great knight and master of the troubadours of Provence. He is said to 
have instigated a quarrel between Henry II of England and his son 
Prince Henry, called "The Young King" because he was crowned 
within his father's lifetime. 

137. Achitophel: One of David's counselors, who deserted him to 
assist the rebellious Absalom. (II Samuel, xv-xvii.) 

Canto XXIX 

circle eight: bolgia ten The Falsifiers 

(Class /, Alchemists) 

Dante lingers on the edge of the Ninth Bolgia expecting to 
see one of his kinsmen, GERI DEL BELLO, among the Sow- 
ers of Discord. Virgil, however, hurries him on, since time is 
short, and as they cross the bridge over the TENTH BOLGIA, 
Virgil explains that he had a glimpse of Geri among the 
crowd near the bridge and that he had been making threaten- 
ing gestures at Dante. 

The Poets now look into the last bolgia of the Eighth Circle 
and see THE FALSIFIERS. They are punished by afflictions 
of every sense: by darkness, stench, thirst, filth, loathsome 
diseases, and a shrieking din. Some of them, moreover, run 
ravening through the pit, tearing others to pieces. Just as 
in life they corrupted society by their falsifications, so in 
death these sinners are subjected to a sum of corruptions. 
In one sense they figure forth what society would be if all 
falsifiers succeeded — a place where the senses are an afflic- 
tion (since falsification deceives the senses) rather than 
a guide, where even the body has no honesty, and where 
some lie prostrate while others run ravening to prey upon 

Not all of these details are made clear until the next Canto, 
for Dante distinguishes four classes of Falsifiers, and in the 
present Canto we meet only the first class, THE ALCHEMISTS, 
the Falsifiers of Things. Of this class are GRIFFOLINO 
DAREZZO and CAPOCCHIO, with both of whom Dante 


236 The Inferno 

The sight of that parade of broken dead 
had left my eyes so sotted with their tears 
I longed to stay and weep, but Virgil said: 

"What are you waiting for? Why do you stare 

as if you could not tear your eyes away 5 

from the mutilated shadows passing there? 

You did not act so in the other pits. 

Consider — if you mean perhaps to count them — 
this valley and its train of dismal spirits 

winds twenty-two miles round. The moon already 10 

is under our feet; the time we have is short, 
and there is much that you have yet to see." 

"Had you known what I was seeking," I replied, 
"you might perhaps have given me permission 
to stay on longer." (As I spoke, my Guide 15 

had started off already, and I in turn 

had moved along behind him; thus, I answered 
as we moved along the cliff.) "Within that cavern 

upon whose brim I stood so long to stare, 

I think a spirit of my own blood mourns 20 

the guilt that sinners find so costly there." 

And the Master then: "Hereafter let your mind 
turn its attention to more worthy matters 
and leave him to his fate among the blind; 

for by the bridge and among that shapeless crew 25 

I saw him point to you with threatening gestures, 
and I heard him called Geri del Bello. You 

were occupied at the time with that headless one 
who in his life was master of Altaforte, 
and did not look that way; so he moved on." 30 

Canto XXIX 237 

"O my sweet Guide," I answered, "his death came 
by violence and is not yet avenged 
by those who share his blood, and, thus, his shame. 

For this he surely hates his kin, and, therefore, 

as I suppose, he would not speak to me; 35 

and in that he makes me pity him the more." 

We spoke of this until we reached the edge 

from which, had there been light, we could have seen 
the floor of the next pit. Out from that ledge 

Malebolge's final cloister lay outspread, 40 

and all of its lay brethren might have been 
in sight but for the murk; and from those dead 

such shrieks and strangled agonies shrilled through me 
like shafts, but barbed with pity, that my hands 
flew to my ears. If all the misery 45 

that crams the hospitals of pestilence 
in Maremma, Valdichiano, and Sardinia 
in the summer months when death sits like a presence 

on the marsh air, were dumped into one trench — 

that might suggest their pain. And through the screams, 50 
putrid flesh spread up its sickening stench. 

Still bearing left we passed from the long sill 
to the last bridge of Malebolge. There 
the reeking bottom was more visible. 

There, High Justice, sacred ministress 55 

of the First Father, reigns eternally 
over the falsifiers in their distress. 

I doubt it could have been such pain to bear 
the sight of the Aeginian people dying 
that time when such malignance rode the air 60 

238 The Inferno 

that every beast down to the smallest worm 

shriveled and died (it was after that great plague 
that the Ancient People, as the poets affirm, 

were reborn from the ants) — as it was to see 

the spirits lying heaped on one another 65 

in the dank bottom of that fetid valley. 

One lay gasping on another's shoulder, 
one on another's belly; and some were crawling 
on hands and knees among the broken boulders. 

Silent, slow step by step, we moved ahead 70 

looking at and listening to those souls 
too weak to raise themselves from their stone bed. 

I saw two there like two pans that are put 
one against the other to hold their warmth. 
They were covered with great scabs from head to foot. 75 

No stable boy in a hurry to go home, 

or for whom his master waits impatiently, 
ever scrubbed harder with his currycomb 

than those two spirits of the stinking ditch 

scrubbed at themselves with their own bloody claws 80 
to ease the furious burning of the itch. 

And as they scrubbed and clawed themselves, their nails 
drew down the scabs the way a knife scrapes bream 
or some other fish with even larger scales. 

"O you," my Guide called out to one, "you there 85 

who rip your scabby mail as if your fingers 
were claws and pincers; tell us if this lair 

counts any Italians among those who lurk 
in its dark depths; so may your busy nails 
eternally suffice you for your work." 90 

Canto XXIX 239 

"We both are Italian whose unending loss 
you see before you," he replied in tears. 
"But who are you who come to question us?" 

"I am a shade," my Guide and Master said, 

"who leads this living man from pit to pit 95 

to show him Hell as I have been commanded." 

The sinners broke apart as he replied 
and turned convulsively to look at me, 
as others did who overheard my Guide. 

My Master, then, ever concerned for me, 100 

turned and said: "Ask them whatever you wish." 
And I said to those two wraiths of misery: 

"So may the memory of your names and actions 
not die forever from the minds of men 
in that first world, but live for many suns, 105 

tell me who you are and of what city; 

do not be shamed by your nauseous punishment 
into concealing your identity." 

"I was a man of Arezzo," one replied, 

"and Albert of Siena had me burned; 1 1 

but 1 am not here for the deed for which I died. 

It is true that jokingly I said to him once: 

'I know how to raise myself and fly through air' ; 
and he — with all the eagerness of a dunce — 

wanted to learn. Because I could not make 1 1 5 

a Daedalus of him — for no other reason- 
he had his father burn me at the stake. 

But Minos, the infallible, had me hurled 
here to the final bolgia of the ten 
for the alchemy I practiced in the world." 1 20 

240 The Inferno 

And I to the Poet: "Was there ever a race 
more vain than the Sienese? Even the French, 
compared to them, seem full of modest grace." 

And the other leper answered mockingly: 

"Excepting Stricca, who by careful planning 1 25 

managed to live and spend so moderately; 

and Niccolo, who in his time above 

was first of all the shoots in that rank garden 
to discover the costly uses of the clove; 

and excepting the brilliant company of talents 1 30 

in which Caccia squandered his vineyards and his woods, 
and Abbagliato displayed his intelligence. 

But if you wish to know who joins your cry 
against the Sienese, study my face 
with care and let it make its own reply. 135 

So you will see I am the suffering shadow 
of Capocchio, who, by practicing alchemy, 
falsified the metals, and you must know, 

unless my mortal recollection strays 

how good an ape I was of Nature's ways." 140 


10. twenty-two miles: Another instance of "poetic" rather than "lit- 
eral" detail. Dante's measurements cannot be made to fit together on 
any scale map. 

10- 1 1 . the moon . . . is under our feet: If the moon, nearly at full, 
is under their feet, the sun must be overhead. It is therefore approxi- 
mately noon of Holy Saturday. 

1 8. cavern: Dante's use of this word is not literally accurate, but 
its intent and its poetic force are obvious. 

Canto XXIX 241 

27. Geri del Bella (DJEH-ree): A cousin of Dante's father. He be- 
came embroiled in a quarrel with the Sacchetti of Florence and was 
murdered. At the time of the writing he had not been avenged by his 
kinsmen in accord with the clan code of a life for a life. 

29. Altaforte (Ahl-tah-FAWR-teh): Bertrand de Born was Lord 
of Hautefort. 

40-41. cloister. . . lay brethren: A Dantean irony. This is the first 
suggestion of a sardonic mood reminiscent of the Gargoyle Cantos 
that will grow and swell in this Canto until even Virgil resorts to 
mocking irony. 

47. Maremma, Valdichiano, and Sardinia: Malarial plague areas. 
Valdichiano and Maremma were swamp areas of eastern and west- 
ern Tuscany. 

59. the Aeginian people dying: Juno, incensed that the nymph 
Aegina let Jove possess her, set a plague upon the island that bore 
her name. Every animal and every human died until only Aeacus, 
the son born to Aegina of Jove, was left. He prayed to his father for 
aid and Jove repopulated the island by transforming the ants at his 
son's feet into men. The Aeginians have since been called Myrmi- 
dons, from the Greek word for ant. Ovid {Metamorphoses, VII, 

76. in a hurry to go home: The literal text would be confusing 
here. I have translated one possible interpretation of it as offered by 
Giuseppe Vandelli. The original line is "ne da colui che mal volen- 
tier vegghia " ("nor by one who unwillingly stays awake," or less lit- 
erally, but with better force: "nor by one who fights off sleep"). 

85. my Guide called out to one: The sinner spoken to is Griffolino 
d' Arezzo (Ah-RAY-tsoe), an alchemist who extracted large sums of 
money from Alberto da Siena on the promise of teaching him to fly 
like Daedalus. When the Sienese oaf finally discovered he had been 
tricked, he had his "uncle," the Bishop of Siena, bum Griffolino as a 
sorcerer. Griffolino, however, is not punished for sorcery, but for 
falsification of silver and gold through alchemy. 

125-132. Stricca . . . Niccold . . . Caccia . . . Abhagliato 
(STREE-kah, Nee-koe-LAW, KAH-tchah, Ahb-ah-LYAH-toe): All 
of these Sienese noblemen were members of the Spendthrift Brigade 

242 The Inferno 

and wasted their substance in competitions of riotous living. Lano 
(Canto XIII) was also of this company. Niccolo dei Salimbeni dis- 
covered some recipe (details unknown) prepared with fabulously 
expensive spices. "Excepting" is ironical. (Cf. the similar usage in 
XXI, 41.) 

137. Capocchio (Kah-PAW-kyoe): Reputedly a Florentine friend 
of Dante's student days. For practicing alchemy he was burned at 
the stake at Siena in 1293. 

Canto XXX 

circle eight: bolgia ten The Falsifiers 

(The Remaining Three 

Classes: Evil Impersonators y 

Counterfeiters, False Witnesses) 

Just as Capocchio finishes speaking, two ravenous spirits 
come racing through the pit; and one of them, sinking his 
tusks into Capocchios neck, drags him away like prey. 
Capocchio s companion, Griff olino, identifies the two as 
GIANNI SCHICCHI and MYRRHA, who run ravening 
through the pit through all eternity, snatching at other souls 
and rending them. These are the EVIL IMPERSONATORS, 
Falsifiers of Persons. In life they seized upon the appearance 
of others, and in death they must run with never a pause, seiz- 
ing upon the infernal apparition of these souls, while they in 
turn are preyed upon by their own furies. 

Next the Poets encounter MASTER ADAM, a sinner of the 
third class, a Falsifier of Money, i.e., a COUNTERFEITER. 
Like the alchemists, he is punished by a loathsome disease 
and he cannot move from where he lies, but his disease is 
compounded by other afflictions, including an eternity of un- 
bearable thirst. Master Adam identifies two spirits lying be- 
sinners of the fourth class, THE FALSE WITNESS, i.e., Falsi- 
fiers of Words. 

Sinon, angered by Master Adam 's identification of him, 
strikes him across the belly with the one arm he is able to 
move. Master Adam replies in kind, and Dante, fascinated by 
their continuing exchange of abuse, stands staring at them 
until Virgil turns on him in great anger, for (i The wish to hear 


244 The Inferno 

such baseness is degrading. " Dante burns with shame, and 
Virgil immediately forgives him because of his great and gen- 
uine repentance. 

At the time when Juno took her furious 
revenge for Semele, striking in rage 
again and again at the Theban royal house, 

King Athamas, by her contrivance, grew 

so mad, that seeing his wife out for an airing 5 

with his two sons, he cried to his retinue: 

"Out with the nets there! Nets across the pass! 
for I will take this lioness and her cubs!" 
And spread his talons, mad and merciless, 

and seizing his son Learchus, whirled him round 10 

and brained him on a rock; at which the mother 
leaped into the sea with her other son and drowned. 

And when the Wheel of Fortune spun about 
to humble the all-daring Trojan's pride 
so that both king and kingdom were wiped out; 1 5 

Hecuba — mourning, wretched, and a slave — 
having seen Polyxena sacrificed, 
and Polydorus dead without a grave; 

lost and alone, beside an alien sea, 

began to bark and growl like a dog 20 

in the mad seizure of her misery. 

But never in Thebes nor Troy were Furies seen 
to strike at man or beast in such mad rage 
as two I saw, pale, naked, and unclean, 

who suddenly came running toward us then, 25 

snapping their teeth as they ran, like hungry swine 
let out to feed after a night in the pen. 

Canto XXX 245 

One of them sank his tusks so savagely 

into Capocchio's neck, that when he dragged him, 

the ditch's rocky bottom tore his belly. 30 

And the Aretine, left trembling by me, said: 
"That incubus, in life, was Gianni Schicchi; 
here he runs rabid, mangling the other dead." 

"So!" I answered, "and so may the other one 

not sink its teeth in you, be pleased to tell us 35 

what shade it is before it races on." 

And he: "That ancient shade in time above 
was Myrrha, vicious daughter of Cinyras 
who loved her father with more than rightful love. 

She falsified another's form and came 40 

disguised to sin with him just as that other 
who runs with her, in order that he might claim 

the fabulous lead-mare, lay under disguise 
on Buoso Donati's death bed and dictated 
a spurious testament to the notaries." 45 

And when the rabid pair had passed from sight, 
I turned to observe the other misbegotten 
spirits that lay about to left and right. 

And there I saw another husk of sin, 

who, had his legs been trimmed away at the groin, 50 
would have looked for all the world like a mandolin. 

The dropsy's heavy humors, which so bunch 
and spread the limbs, had disproportioned him 
till his face seemed much too small for his swollen paunch. 

He strained his lips apart and thrust them forward 55 

the way a sick man, feverish with thirst, 
curls one lip toward the chin and the other upward. 

246 The Inferno 

"O you exempt from every punishment 

of this grim world (I know not why)," he cried, 

"look well upon the misery and debasement 60 

of him who was Master Adam. In my first 
life's time, I had enough to please me: here, 
I lack a drop of water for my thirst. 

The rivulets that run from the green flanks 

of Casentino to the Arno's flood, 65 

spreading their cool sweet moisture through their banks, 

run constantly before me, and their plash 
and ripple in imagination dries me 
more than the disease that eats my flesh. 

Inflexible Justice that has forked and spread 70 

my soul like hay, to search it the more closely, 
finds in the country where my guilt was bred 

this increase of my grief; for there I learned, 
there in Romena, to stamp the Baptist's image 
on alloyed gold — till I was bound and burned. 75 

But could I see the soul of Guido here, 
or of Alessandro, or of their filthy brother, 
I would not trade that sight for all the clear 

cool flow of Branda's fountain. One of the three — 

if those wild wraiths who run here are not lying — 80 

is here already. But small good it does me 

when my legs are useless! Were I light enough 
to move as much as an inch in a hundred years, 
long before this I would have started off 

to cull him from the freaks that fill this fosse, 85 

although it winds on for eleven miles 
and is no less than half a mile across. 

Canto XXX 247 

Because of them I lie here in this pig-pen; 
it was they persuaded me to stamp the florins 
with three carats of alloy." And I then: 90 

"Who are those wretched two sprawled alongside 
your right-hand borders, and who seem to smoke 
as a washed hand smokes in winter?" He replied: 

"They were here when I first rained into this gully, 

and have not changed position since, nor may they, 95 
as I believe, to all eternity. 

One is the liar who charged young Joseph wrongly: 
the other, Sinon, the false Greek from Troy. 
A burning fever makes them reek so strongly." 

And one of the false pair, perhaps offended 100 

by the manner of Master Adam's presentation, 
punched him in the rigid and distended 

belly — it thundered like a drum — and he 
retorted with an arm blow to the face 
that seemed delivered no whit less politely, 105 

saying to him: "Although I cannot stir 
my swollen legs, I still have a free arm 
to use at times when nothing else will answer." 

And the other wretch said: "It was not so free 
on your last walk to the stake, free as it was 1 10 

when you were coining." And he of the dropsy: 

"That's true enough, but there was less truth in you 
when they questioned you at Troy." And Sinon then: 
"For every word I uttered that was not true 

you uttered enough false coins to fill a bushel: 1 1 5 

I am put down here for a single crime, 
but you for more than any Fiend in Hell." 

248 The Inferno 

'Think of the Horse," replied the swollen shade, 
"and may it torture you, perjurer, to recall 
that all the world knows the foul part you played." 1 20 

"And to you the torture of the thirst that fries 

and cracks your tongue," said the Greek, "and of the water 
that swells your gut like a hedge before your eyes." 

And the coiner: "So is your own mouth clogged 

with the filth that stuffs and sickens it as always; 1 25 

if I am parched while my paunch is waterlogged, 

you have the fever and your cankered brain; 
and were you asked to lap Narcissus' mirror 
you would not wait to be invited again." 

I was still standing, fixed upon those two 1 30 

when the Master said to me: "Now keep on looking 
a little longer and I quarrel with you." 

When I heard my Master raise his voice to me, 
I wheeled about with such a start of shame 
that I grow pale yet at the memory. 1 35 

As one trapped in a nightmare that has caught 
his sleeping mind, wishes within the dream 
that it were all a dream, as if it were not — 

.such I became: my voice could not win through 

my shame to ask his pardon; while my shame 140 

already won more pardon than I knew. 

"Less shame," my Guide said, ever just and kind, 
"would wash away a greater fault than yours. 
Therefore, put back all sorrow from your mind; 

and never forget that I am always by you 145 

should it occur again, as we walk on, 
that we find ourselves where others of this crew 

Canto XXX 249 

fall to such petty wrangling and upbraiding. 
The wish to hear such baseness is degrading; 


1-2. Juno took her furious revenge: As in the case of the Aegini- 
ans, Jove begot a son (Bacchus) upon a mortal (Semele, daughter of 
King Cadmus of Thebes); and Juno, who obviously could not cope 
with her husband's excursions directly, turned her fury upon the 
mortals in a number of god-like ways, among them inducing the 
madness of King Athamas (Semele 's brother-in-law) which Ovid 
recounts in Metamorphoses, IV, 5 1 2 ff . 

16. Hecuba: Wife of King Priam. When Troy fell she was taken 
to Greece as a slave. En route she was forced to witness the sacrifice 
of her daughter and to look upon her son lying murdered and un- 
buried. She went mad in her affliction and fell to howling like a dog. 
Ovid (Metamorphoses, XIII, 568 ff.) describes her anguish but does 
not say she was changed into a dog. 

31. theAretine: Capocchio's companion, Griffolino. 

32. Gianni Schicchi (DJAHN-ee SKEE-kee): Of the Cavalcanti 
of Florence. When Buoso di Donati (see Canto XXV) died, his son, 
Simone, persuaded Schicchi to impersonate the dead man and to 
dictate a will in Simone's favor. Buoso was removed from the death 
bed, Schicchi took his place in disguise, and the will was dictated to 
a notary as if Buoso were still alive. Schicchi took advantage of the 
occasion to make several bequests to himself, including one of a fa- 
mous and highly-prized mare. 

38. Myrrha: The second figure that runs rabid through the pit was 
the daughter of Cinyras, King of Cyprus. Moved by an incestuous 
passion for her father, she disguised herself and slipped into his bed. 
After he had mated with her, the king discovered who she was and 
threatened to kill her but she ran away and was changed into a myrtle. 
Adonis was born from her trunk. (Ovid, Metamorphoses, X, 298 ff.) 

61. Master Adam: Of Brescia. Under the orders of the Counts 
Guidi of Romena, he counterfeited Florentine florins of twenty- 
one rather than twenty-four carat gold, and on such a scale that a 

250 The Inferno 

currency crisis arose in Northern Italy. He was burned at the stake 
by the Florentines in 1 28 1 . 

65. Casentino: A mountainous district in which the Arno rises. 

74. the Baptist's image: John the Baptist's. As patron of Florence, 
his image was stamped on the florins. 

16-11 . Guido . . . Alessandro . . . their filthy brother: The Counts 

79. Branda: A spring near Romena. The famous fountain of 
Branda is in Siena, but Adam is speaking of his home country and 
must mean the spring. 

79-8 1 . One of the three . . . is here already: Guido died before 

92. your right-hand borders: Master Adam's right side. Dante 
uses confini (borders) for "side," suggesting ironically that Master 
Adam in his swollen state is more like a territory than a man. 

97. the liar who charged young Joseph: Potiphar's wife bore 
false witness against Joseph. (Genesis, xxxix, 6-23) 

98. Sinon: The Greek who glibly talked the Trojans into taking 
the Horse inside the city walls. (Aeneid, II, 57-194) 

115-1 1 7. a single crime: Dante must reckon each false florin as a 
separate sin. 

128. Narcissus' mirror: A pool of water. Ovid (Metamorphoses, 
III, 407-510) tells how the young Narcissus fell in love with his 
own reflection in a pool. He remained bent over the reflection till he 
wasted away and was changed into a flower. 

Canto XXXI 


Dante *s spirits rise again as the Poets approach the Central 
Pit y a great well, at the bottom of which lies Cocytus, the 
Ninth and final circle of Hell. Through the darkness Dante 
sees what appears to be a city of great towers, but as he draws 
near he discovers that the great shapes he has seen are the 
Giants and Titans who stand perpetual guard inside the well- 
pit with the upper halves of their bodies rising above the rim. 

Among the Giants, Virgil identifies NIMROD, builder of 
the Tower of Babel; EPHIALTES and BRIAREUS, who warred 
against the Gods; and TITYOS and TYPHON, who insulted 
Jupiter. Also here, but for no specific offense, is ANTAEUS, and 
his presence makes it clear that the Giants are placed here less 
for their particular sins than for their general natures. 

These are the sons of earth, embodiments of elemental 
forces unbalanced by love, desire without restraint and with- 
out acknowledgment of moral and theological law /Thev ar e 
sy mbols of the earth-trace th at every devout man nui&Lclear 
y vm his soul, the unchecked ^assMmoflhe beast. Raised 
from the earth, they make tfievery gods tremble. Now they 
are r eiwmedl^^ origins, guardians of 

earj ^Tast dept h. 

AtVirgil 's persuasion, Antaeus takes the Poets in his huge 
palm and lowers them gently to the final floor of Hell. 


One and the same tongue had first wounded me 
so that the blood came rushing to my cheeks, 
and then supplied the soothing remedy. 


252 The Inferno 

Just so, as I have heard, the magic steel 

of the lance that was Achilles' and his father's 5 

could wound at a touch, and, at another, heal. 

We turned our backs on the valley and climbed from it 
to the top of the stony bank that walls it round, 
crossing in silence to the central pit. 

Here it was less than night and less than day; 10 

my eyes could make out little through the gloom, 
but I heard the shrill note of a trumpet bray 

louder than any thunder. As if by force, 
it drew my eyes; I stared into the gloom 
along the path of the sound back to its source. 15 

After the bloody rout when Charlemagne 
had lost the band of Holy Knights, Roland 
blew no more terribly for all his pain. 

And as I stared through that obscurity, 

I saw what seemed a cluster of great towers, 20 

whereat I cried: "Master, what is this city?" 

And he: "You are still too far back in the dark 
to make out clearly what you think you see; 
it is natural that you should miss the mark: 

You will see clearly when you reach that place 25 

how much your eyes mislead you at a distance; 
I urge you, therefore, to increase your pace." 

Then taking my hand in his, my Master said: 
"The better to prepare you for strange truth, 
let me explain those shapes you see ahead: 30 

they are not towers but giants. They stand in the well 
from the navel down; and stationed round its bank 
they mount guard on the final pit of Hell." 

Canto XXXI 253 

Just as a man in a fog that starts to clear 

begins little by little to piece together 35 

the shapes the vapor crowded from the air — 

so, when those shapes grew clearer as I drew 
across the darkness to the central brink, 
error fled from me; and my terror grew. 

For just as at Montereggione the great towers 40 

crown the encircling wall; so the grim giants 
whom Jove still threatens when the thunder roars 

raised from the rim of stone about that well 

the upper halves of their bodies, which loomed up 

like turrets through the murky air of Hell. 45 

I had drawn close enough to one already 
to make out the great arms along his sides, 
the face, the shoulders, the breast, and most of the belly. 

Nature, when she destroyed the last exemplars 

on which she formed those beasts, surely did well 50 

to take such executioners from Mars. 

And if she has not repented the creation 
of whales and elephants, the thinking man 
will see in that her justice and discretion: 

for where the instrument of intelligence 55 

is added to brute power and evil will, 
mankind is powerless in its own defense. 

His face, it seemed to me, was quite as high 
and wide as the bronze pine cone in St. Peter's 
with the rest of him proportioned accordingly: 60 

so that the bank, which made an apron for him 
from the waist down, still left so much exposed 
that three Frieslanders standing on the rim, 

254 The Inferno 

one on another, could not have reached his hair; 

for to that point at which men's capes are buckled, 65 

thirty good hand-spans of brute bulk rose clear. 

"Rafel mahee amek zabi almit," 

began a bellowed chant from the brute mouth 
for which no sweeter psalmody was fit. 

And my Guide in his direction: "Babbling fool, 70 

stick to your horn and vent yourself with it 
when rage or passion stir your stupid soul. 

Feel there around your neck, you muddle-head, 
and find the cord; and there's the horn itself, 
there on your overgrown chest." To me he said: 75 

"His very babbling testifies the wrong 

he did on earth: he is Nimrod, through whose evil 
mankind no longer speaks a common tongue. 

Waste no words on him: it would be foolish. 

To him all speech is meaningless; as his own, 80 

which no one understands, is simply gibberish." 

We moved on, bearing left along the pit, 

and a crossbow-shot away we found the next one, 
an even huger and more savage spirit. 

What master could have bound so gross a beast 85 

I cannot say, but he had his right arm pinned 
behind his back, and the left across his breast 

by an enormous chain that wound about him 
from the neck down, completing five great turns 
before it spiraled down below the rim. 90 

'This piece of arrogance," said my Guide to me, 
"dared try his strength against the power of Jove; 
for which he is rewarded as you see. 

Canto XXXI 255 

He is Ephialtes, who made the great endeavour 

with the other giants who alarmed the Gods; 95 

the arms he raised then, now are bound forever." 

"Were it possible, I should like to take with me," 
I said to him, "the memory of seeing 
the immeasurable Briareus." And he: 

"Nearer to hand, you may observe Antaeus 100 

who is able to speak to us, and is not bound. 
It is he will set us down in Cocytus, 

the bottom of all guilt. The other hulk 

stands far beyond our road. He too, is bound 

and looks like this one, but with a fiercer sulk." 105 

No earthquake in the fury of its shock 
ever seized a tower more violently, 
than Ephialtes, hearing, began to rock. 

Then I dreaded death as never before; 

and I think I could have died for very fear 1 10 

had I not seen what manacles he wore. 

We left the monster, and not far from him 

we reached Antaeus, who to his shoulders alone 
soared up a good five ells above the rim. 

"O soul who once in Zama's fateful vale— 115 

where Scipio became the heir of glory 
when Hannibal and all his troops turned tail — 

took more than a thousand lions for your prey; 
and in whose memory many still believe 
the sons of earth would yet have won the day 1 20 

had you joined with them against High Olympus — 
do not disdain to do us a small service, 
but set us down where the cold grips Cocytus. 

256 The Inferno 

Would you have us go to Tityos or Typhon? — 

this man can give you what is longed for here: 1 25 

therefore do not refuse him, but bend down. 

For he can still make new your memory: 
he lives, and awaits long life, unless Grace call him 
before his time to his felicity." 

Thus my Master to that Tower of Pride; 1 30 

and the giant without delay reached out the hands 
which Hercules had felt, and raised my Guide. 

Virgil, when he felt himself so grasped, 

called to me: "Come, and I will hold you safe." 

And he took me in his arms and held me clasped. 1 35 

The way the Carisenda seems to one 

who looks up from the leaning side when clouds 
are going over it from that direction, 

making the whole tower seem to topple — so 

Antaeus seemed to me in the fraught moment 140 

when I stood clinging, watching from below 

as he bent down; while I with heart and soul 
wished we had gone some other way, but gently 
he set us down inside the final hole 

whose ice holds Judas and Lucifer in its grip. 145 

Then straightened like a mast above a ship. 


5. ACHILLES" LANCE. Peleus, father of Achilles, left this 
magic lance to his son. (Ovid, Metamorphoses, XIII, 171 ff.) Son- 
neteers of Dante's time made frequent metaphoric use of this lance: 
just as the lance could cure and then heal, so could the lady's look 
destroy with love and her kiss make whole. 

Canto XXXI 257 

14-15. stared . . . along the path of the sound: Another of Dante's 
peculiar reports of how the senses work. He treats his eyes here as if 
they were radio-compasses tracking a beam. There is not another 
man in literature who would anatomize this reaction in this way. 
Compare with this the opening of Canto XX and the note on Dante's 
peculiar treatment of his vision. 

17. Roland: Nephew of Charlemagne, hero of the French epic 
poem, the Chanson de Roland. He protected the rear of Charle- 
magne's column on the return march through the Pyrenees from a 
war against the Saracens. When he was attacked he was too proud to 
blow his horn as a signal for help, but as he was dying he blew so 
prodigious a blast that it was heard by Charlemagne eight miles 
away. Band of Holy Knights: The original is "la santa gesta, " 
which may be interpreted as "the holy undertaking." "Gesta, " how- 
ever, can also mean "a sworn band or fellowship of men at arms" 
(such as the Knights of the Round Table), and since it was his 
Knights, rather than his undertaking, that Charlemagne lost, the sec- 
ond rendering seems more apt in context. 

40. Montereggione (Mon-teh-reh-DJOE-neh): A castle in Val 
d'Elsa near Siena built in 1213. Its walls had a circumference of 
more than half a kilometer and were crowned by fourteen great tow- 
ers, most of which are now destroyed. 

59. the bronze pine cone in St. Peter s: Originally a part of a foun- 
tain. In Dante's time it stood in front of the Basilica of St. Peter. It is 
now inside the Vatican. It stands about thirteen feet high (Scartazzini- 
Vandelli gives the height as four meters) but shows signs of mutila- 
tion that indicate it was once higher. Many translations incorrectly 
render the original "la pina" as pine tree. In Italian "pino" is "pine tree" 
and "pina" is "pine cone." Like most of Dante's measurements it is a 
poetical rather than a literal assistance in determining the height of 
the giants. How tall is a man whose face is thirteen feet long? If the 
face represents one-sixth of a man's height, a minimum figure will 
be seventy-eight feet; but other interpretations of Dante's details will 
yield figures ranging from forty to one hundred feet. Lines 65-66, for 
example, would yield a figure between 300 and 474 inches for the 
measurement from the waist to (roughly) the collarbone. 

63. Frieslanders: The men of Friesland were reputed to be the 
tallest in Europe. 

258 The Inferno 

66. thirty good hand-spans: Dante uses the word "pal ma," which 
in Italian signifies the spread of the open hand, a considerably larger 
measure than the English "hand" which equals four inches. The 
Dante Society edition of the Comedy equates ten palms to four me- 
ters or 158 inches, but 15.8 inches seems excessive. Ten inches 
would seem closer to a "good hand-span." 

67. Rafel mahee, etc.: This line, as Virgil explains below, is Nim- 
rod's gibberish. 

77. Nimrod: The first king of Babylon, supposed to have built the 
Tower of Babel, for which he is punished, in part, by the confusion 
of his own tongue and understanding. Nothing in the Biblical refer- 
ence portrays him as one of the earth-giants. 

94. Ephialtes: Son of Neptune (the sea) and Iphimedia. With his 
brother, Otus, he warred against the Gods striving to pile Mt. Ossa 
on Mt. Olympus, and Mt. Pelion on Mt. Ossa. Apollo restored good 
order by killing the two brothers. 

99. Briareus: Another of the giants who rose against the 
Olympian Gods. Virgil speaks of him as having a hundred arms and 
fifty hands (Aeneid, X, 565-568), but Dante has need only of his 
size, and of his sin, which he seems to view as a kind of revolt of the 
angels, just as the action of Ephialtes and Otus may be read as a pa- 
gan distortion of the Tower of Babel legend. He was the son of 
Uranus and Tellus. 

100. Antaeus: The son of Neptune and Tellus (the earth). In bat- 
tle, his strength grew every time he touched the earth, his mother. 
He was accordingly invincible until Hercules killed him by lifting 
him over his head and strangling him in mid-air. Lucan (Pharsalia, 
IV, 595-660) describes Antaeus' great lion-hunting feat in the valley 
of Zama where, in a later era, Scipio defeated Hannibal. Antaeus did 
not join in the rebellion against the gods and therefore he is not 

123. Cocytus: The final pit of Hell. See the remaining Cantos. 

124. Tityos or Typhon: Also sons of Tellus. They offended 
Jupiter, who had them hurled into the crater of Etna, below which 
Lake Tartarus was supposed to lie. 

1 36. the Carisenda: A leaning tower of Bologna. 

Canto XXXII 

circle nine: cocytus Compound Fraud 

round one: cain a The Treacherous to Kin 

round two: antenora The Treacherous 

to Country 

At the bottom of the well Dante finds himself on a huge frozen 
lake. This is COCYTUS, the NINTH CIRCLE, the fourth and 
last great water of Hell, and here, fixed in the ice, each ac- 
cording to his guilt, are punished sinners guilty of TREACH- 
BY SPECIAL TIES. The ice is divided into four concentric 
rings marked only by the different positions of the damned 
within the ice. 

This is Dante s symbolic equivalent of the final guilt. The 
treacheries of these souls were denials of love (which is God) 
and of all human warmth. Only the remorseless dead center 
of the ice will serve to express their natures. As they denied 
God's love, so are they furthest removed from the light and 
warmth of His Sun. As they denied all human ties, so are they 
bound only by the unyielding ice. 

The first round is CAIN A, named for Cain. Here lie those 
who were treacherous against blood ties. They have their 
necks and heads out of the ice and are permitted to bow their 
heads — a double boon since it allows them some protection 
from the freezing gale and, further, allows their tears to fall 
without freezing their eyes shut. Here Dante sees ALESSAN- 
DRO and NAPOLEONE DEGLI ALBERTI, and he speaks to 
CAMICION, who identifies other sinners of this round. 

The second round is ANTENORA, named for Antenor, the 
Trojan who was believed to have betrayed his city to the 


Canto XXXII 26 J 

Greeks. Here lie those guilty of TREACHERY TO COUNTRY. 
They, too, have their heads above the ice, but they cannot bend 
their necks, which are gripped by the ice. Here Dante acci- 
dentally kicks the head o f BOCCA QEGLI A BRA T J and then 
proceeds to treat him with a savagery he has shown to no 
other soul in Hell. Bocca names some of his fellow traitors, 
and the Poets pass on to discover two heads frozen together in 
one hole. One of them is gnawing the nape of the other 's neck. 

If I had rhymes as harsh and horrible 
as the hard fact of that final dismal hole 
which bears the weight of all the steeps of Hell, 

I might more fully press the sap and substance 

from my conception; but since I must do 5 

without them, I begin with some reluctance. 

For it is no easy undertaking, I say, 
to describe the bottom of the Universe; 
nor is it for tongues that only babble child's play. 

But may those Ladies of the Heavenly Spring 10 

who helped Amphion wall Thebes, assist my verse, 
that the word may be the mirror of the thing. 

most miscreant rabble, you who keep 

the stations of that place whose name is pain, 

better had you been born as goats or sheep ! 1 5 

We stood now in the dark pit of the well, 
far down the slope below the Giant's feet, 
and while I still stared up at the great wall, 

1 heard a voice cry: "Watch which way you turn: 

take care you do not trample on the heads 20 

of the forworn and miserable brethren." 

Whereat I turned and saw beneath my feet 
and stretching out ahead, a lake so frozen 
it seemed to be made of glass. So thick a sheet 

262 The Inferno 

never yet hid the Danube's winter course, 25 

nor, far away beneath the frigid sky, 
locked the Don up in its frozen source: 

for were Tanbernick and the enormous peak 
of Pietrapana to crash down on it, 
not even the edges would so much as creak. 30 

The way frogs sit to croak, their muzzles leaning 
out of the water, at the time and season 
when the peasant woman dreams of her day's gleaning — 

Just so the livid dead are sealed in place 

up to the part at which they blushed for shame, 35 

and they beat their teeth like storks. Each holds his face 

bowed toward the ice, each of them testifies 

to the cold with his chattering mouth, to his heart's grief 
with tears that flood forever from his eyes. 

When I had stared about me, I looked down 40 

and at my feet I saw two clamped together 
so tightly that the hair of their heads had grown 

together. "Who are you," I said, "who lie 

so tightly breast to breast?" They strained their necks, 
and when they had raised their heads as if to reply, 45 

the tears their eyes had managed to contain 

up to that time gushed out, and the cold froze them 
between the lids, sealing them shut again 

tighter than any clamp grips wood to wood, 

and mad with pain, they fell to butting heads 50 

like billy-goats in a sudden savage mood. 

And a wraith who lay to one side and below, 
and who had lost both ears to frostbite, said, 
his head still bowed: "Why do you watch us so? 

Canto XXXII 263 

If you wish to know who they are who share one doom, 55 
they owned the Bisenzio's valley with their father, 
whose name was Albert. They sprang from one womb, 

and you may search through all Caina's crew 
without discovering in all this waste 
a squab more fit for the aspic than these two; 60 

not him whose breast and shadow a single blow 
of the great lance of King Arthur pierced with light; 
nor yet Focaccia; nor this one fastened so 

into the ice that his head is all I see, 

and whom, if you are Tuscan, you know well — 65 

his name on the earth was Sassol Mascheroni. 

And I — to tell you all and so be through — 
was Camicion de' Pazzi. I wait for Carlin 
beside whose guilt my sins will shine like virtue." 

And leaving him, I saw a thousand faces 70 

discolored so by cold, I shudder yet 
and always will when I think of those frozen places. 

As we approached the center of all weight, 
where I went shivering in eternal shade, 
whether it was my will, or chance, or fate, 75 

I cannot say, but as I trailed my Guide 

among those heads, my foot struck violently 
against the face of one. Weeping, it cried: 

"Why do you kick me? If you were not sent 

to wreak a further vengeance for Montaperti, 80 

why do you add this to my other torment?" 

"Master," I said, "grant me a moment's pause 
to rid myself of a doubt concerning this one; 
then you may hurry me at your own pace." 

264 The Inferno 

The Master stopped at once, and through the volley 85 

of foul abuse the wretch poured out, I said: 
"Who are you who curse others so?" And he: 

"And who are you who go through the dead larder 
of Antenora kicking the cheeks of others 
so hard, that were you alive, you could not kick harder?" 90 

"I am alive," I said, "and if you seek fame, 
it may be precious to you above all else 
that my notes on this descent include your name." 

"Exactly the opposite is my wish and hope," 

he answered. "Let me be; for it's little you know 95 

of how to flatter on this icy slope." 

I grabbed the hair of his dog's-ruff and I said: 
"Either you tell me truly who you are, 
or you won't have a hair left on your head." 

And he: "Not though you snatch me bald. I swear 100 

I will not tell my name nor show my face. 
Not though you rip until my brain lies bare." 

I had a good grip on his hair; already 

I had yanked out more than one fistful of it, 

while the wretch yelped, but kept his face turned from me; 105 

when another said: "Bocca, what is it ails you? 
What the Hell's wrong? Isn't it bad enough 
to hear you bang your jaws? Must you bark too?" 

"Now filthy traitor, say no more!" I cried, 

"for to your shame, be sure I shall bear back 1 1 

a true report of you." The wretch replied: 

"Say anything you please but go away. 
And if you do get back, don't overlook 
that pretty one who had so much to say 

Canto XXXII 265 

just now. Here he laments the Frenchman's price. 115 

i saw Buoso da Duera,' you can report, 
'where the bad salad is kept crisp on ice.' 

And if you're asked who else was wintering here, 
Beccheria, whose throat was slit by Florence, 
is there beside you. Gianni de' Soldanier 120 

is further down, I think, with Ganelon, 

and Tebaldello, who opened the gates of Faenza 
and let Bologna steal in with the dawn." 

Leaving him then, I saw two souls together 

in a single hole, and so pinched in by the ice 1 25 

that one head made a helmet for the other. 

As a famished man chews crusts — so the one sinner 
sank his teeth into the other's nape 
at the base of the skull, gnawing his loathsome dinner. 

Tydeus in his final raging hour 1 30 

gnawed Menalippus' head with no more fury 
than this one gnawed at skull and dripping gore. 

"You there," I said, "who show so odiously 
your hatred for that other, tell me why 
on this condition: that if in what you tell me 1 35 

you seem to have a reasonable complaint 
against him you devour with such foul relish, 
I, knowing who you are, and his soul's taint, 

may speak your cause to living memory, 

God willing the power of speech be left to me." 140 


3. which bears the weight of all the steeps of Hell: Literally, it is 
the base from which all the steeps rise; symbolically, it is the total 
and finality of all guilt. 

266 The Inferno 

10. those Ladies of the Heavenly Spring, etc.: The Muses. They 
so inspired Amphion's hand upon the lyre that the music charmed 
blocks of stone out of Mount Cithaeron, and the blocks formed 
themselves into the walls of Thebes. 

28-29. Tanbernick . . . Pietrapana: There is no agreement on the 
location of the mountain Dante called Tanbernick. Pietrapana, today 
known as la Pania, is in Tuscany. 

32-33. season . . . gleaning: The summer. 

35. the part at which they blushed: The cheeks. By extension, the 
whole face. 

41-61. two clamped together: Alessandro and Napoleone, 
Counts of Mangona. Among other holdings, they inherited a castle 
in the Val di Bisenzio. They seemed to have been at odds on all 
things and finally killed one another in a squabble over their inheri- 
tance and their politics (Alessandro was a Guelph and Napoleone a 

61. him whose breast and shadow, etc.: Mordred, King Arthur's 
traitorous nephew. He tried to kill Arthur, but the king struck him a 
single blow of his lance, and when it was withdrawn, a shaft of light 
passed through the gaping wound and split the shadow of the falling 

63. Focaccia (Foh-KAH-tcha): Of the Cancellieri of Pistoia. He< 
murdered his cousin (among others) and may have been the princi- 
pal cause of a great feud that divided the Cancellieri, and split the 
Guelphs into the White and Black parties. 

66. Sassol Mascheroni: Of the Toschi of Florence. He was ap- 
pointed guardian of one of his nephews and murdered him to get the 
inheritance for himself. 

68. Camicion de'Pazzi (Kah-mih-TCHONE day PAH-tsee): Al- 
berto Camicion de' Pazzi of Valdarno. He murdered a kinsman. 
Carlin: Carlino de' Pazzi, relative of Alberto. He was charged with 
defending for the Whites the castle of Piantravigne (Pyahn-trah- 
VEE-nyeh) in Valdarno but surrendered it for a bribe. He belongs 
therefore in the next lower circle, Antenora, as a traitor to his coun- 
try, and when he arrives there his greater sin will make Alberto seem 
almost virtuous by comparison. 

Canto XXXII 267 

70. And leaving him: These words mark the departure from Caina 

73. the center of all weight: In Dante's cosmology the bottom of 
Hell is at the center of the earth, which is in turn the center of the 
universe; it is therefore the center of all gravity. Symbolically, it is 
the focal point of all guilt. Gravity, weight, and evil are equivalent 
symbols on one level; they are what ties man to the earth, what 
draws him down. At the center of all, Satan is fixed forever in the 
eternal ice. The journey to salvation, however, is up from that cen- 
ter, once the soul has realized the hideousness of sin. 

78. against the face of one: Bocca degli Abbati, a traitorous Flor- 
entine. At the battle of Montaperti (cf Farinata, Canto X) he hacked 
off the hand of the Florentine standard bearer. The cavalry, lacking a 
standard around which it could rally, was soon routed. 

107. What the Hells wrong?: In the circumstances, a monstrous 
pun. The original is "qual diavolo ti tocca?" (what devil touches, or 
molests, you?) a standard colloquialism for "what's the matter with 
you?" A similar pun occurs in line 117 "kept crisp (cool) on ice." 
Colloquially "stare fresco" (to be or to remain cool) equals "to be 
left out in the cold," i.e., to be out of luck. 

116. Buoso da Duera: Of Cremona. In 1265 Charles of Anjou 
marched against Manfred and Naples (see Canto XVIII), and Buoso 
da Duera was sent out in charge of a Ghibelline army to oppose the 
passage of one of Charles' armies, but accepted a bribe and let the 
French pass unopposed. The event took place near Parma. 

119. Beccheria: Tesauro dei Beccheria of Pavia, Abbot of Val- 
lombrosa and Papal Legate (of Alexander IV) in Tuscany. The Flor- 
entine Guelphs cut off his head in 1 258 for plotting with the expelled 

120. Gianni de y Soldanier: A Florentine Ghibelline of ancient 
and noble family. In 1265, however, during the riots that occurred 
under the Two Jovial Friars, he deserted his party and became a 
leader of the commoners (Guelphs). In placing him in Antenora, 
Dante makes no distinction between turning on one's country and 
turning on one's political party, not at least if the end is simply for 

268 The Inferno 

121. Ganelon: It was Ganelon who betrayed Roland to the Sara- 
cens. (See Canto XXXI.) 

122. Tebaldello: Tebaldello de' Zambrasi of Faenza. At dawn on 
November 13, 1280, he opened the city gates and delivered Faenza 
to the Bolognese Guelphs in order to revenge himself on the Ghi- 
belline family of the Lambertazzi who, in 1274, had fled from 
Bologna to take refuge in Faenza. 

130-11. Tydeus . . . Menalippus: Statius recounts in the Thebaid 
that Tydeus killed Menalippus in battle but fell himself mortally 
wounded. As he lay dying he had Menalippus' head brought to him 
and fell to gnawing it in his dying rage. 


circle nine: cocytus Compound Fraud 

round two: antenora The Treacherous 

to Country 
round three: ptolomea The Treacherous to 

Guests and Hosts 

In reply to Dante s exhortation, the sinner who is gnawing his 
companion 's head looks up, wipes his bloody mouth on his 
victim's hair, and tells his harrowing story. He is COUNT 
UGOLINO and the wretch he gnaws is ARCHBISHOP RUG- 
GIERI. Both are in Antenora for treason. In life they had once 
plotted together. Then Ruggieri betrayed his fellow -plotter 
and caused his death, by starvation, along with his four 
(i sons. " In the most pathetic and dramatic passage of the In- 
ferno, Ugolino details how their prison was sealed and how his 
"sons" dropped dead before him one by one, weeping for 
food. His terrible tale serves only to renew his grief and 
hatred, and he has hardly finished it before he begins to 
gnaw Ruggieri again with renewed fury. In the immutable 
Law of Hell, the killer-by- starvation becomes the food of his 

The Poets leave Ugolino and enter PTOLOMEA, so 
named for the Ptolomaeus of Maccabees, who murdered his 
father-in-law at a banquet. Here are punished those who 
ITY. They lie with only half their faces above the ice and their 
tears freeze in their eye sockets, sealing them with little crys- 
tal visors. Thus even the comfort of tears is denied them. Here 
Dante finds FRIAR ALBERIGO and BRANCA D 'ORIA, and 
discovers the terrible power of Ptolomea: so great is its sin 


270 The Inferno 

that the souls of the guilty fall to its torments even before they 
die, leaving their bodies still on earth, inhabited by Demons. 

The sinner raised his mouth from his grim repast 
and wiped it on the hair of the bloody head 
whose nape he had all but eaten away. At last 

he began to speak: "You ask me to renew 

a grief so desperate that the very thought 5 

of speaking of it tears my heart in two. 

But if my words may be a seed that bears 
the fruit of infamy for him I gnaw, 
I shall weep, but tell my story through my tears. 

Who you may be, and by what powers you reach 10 

into this underworld, I cannot guess, 
but you seem to me a Florentine by your speech. 

I was Count Ugolino, I must explain; 

this reverend grace is the Archbishop Ruggieri: 

now I will tell you why I gnaw his brain. 15 

That I, who trusted him, had to undergo 

imprisonment and death through his treachery, 
you will know already. What you cannot know — 

that is, the lingering inhumanity 

of the death I suffered — you shall hear in full: 20 

then judge for yourself if he has injured me. 

A narrow window in that coop of stone 

now called the Tower of Hunger for my sake 
(within which others yet must pace alone) 

had shown me several waning moons already 25 

between its bars, when I slept the evil sleep 
in which the veil of the future parted for me. 

Canto XXXIII 271 

This beast appeared as master of a hunt 

chasing the wolf and his whelps across the mountain 
that hides Lucca from Pisa. Out in front 30 

of the starved and shrewd and avid pack he had placed 
Gualandi and Sismondi and Lanfranchi 
to point his prey. The father and sons had raced 

a brief course only when they failed of breath 

and seemed to weaken; then I thought I saw 35 

their flanks ripped open by the hounds' fierce teeth. 

Before the dawn, the dream still in my head, 

I woke and heard my sons, who were there with me, 
cry from their troubled sleep, asking for bread. 

You are cruelty itself if you can keep 40 

your tears back at the thought of what foreboding 
stirred in my heart; and if you do not weep, 

at what are you used to weeping? — The hour when food 
used to be brought, drew near. They were now awake, 
and each was anxious from his dream's dark mood. 45 

And from the base of that horrible tower I heard 
the sound of hammers nailing up the gates: 
I stared at my sons' faces without a word. 

I did not weep: I had turned stone inside. 

They wept. 'What ails you, Father, you look so strange,' 50 
my little Anselm, youngest of them, cried. 

But I did not speak a word nor shed a tear: 
not all that day nor all that endless night, 
until I saw another sun appear. 

When a tiny ray leaked into that dark prison 55 

and I saw staring back from their four faces 
the terror and the wasting of my own, 

272 The Inferno 

I bit my hands in helpless grief. And they, 
thinking I chewed myself for hunger, rose 
suddenly together. I heard them say: 60 

'Father, it would give us much less pain 
if you ate us: it was you who put upon us 
this sorry flesh; now strip it off again.' 

I calmed myself to spare them. Ah! hard earth, 

why did you not yawn open? All that day 65 

and the next we sat in silence. On the fourth, 

Gaddo, the eldest, fell before me and cried, 
stretched at my feet upon that prison floor: 
'Father, why don't you help me?' There he died. 

And just as you see me, I saw them fall 70 

one by one on the fifth day and the sixth. 
Then, already blind, I began to crawl 

from body to body shaking them frantically. 

Two days I called their names, and they were dead. 

Then fasting overcame my grief and me." 75 

His eyes narrowed to slits when he was done, 
and he seized the skull again between his teeth 
grinding it as a mastiff grinds a bone. 

Ah, Pisa! foulest blemish on the land 

where "si" sounds sweet and clear, since those nearby you 80 
are slow to blast the ground on which you stand, 

may Caprara and Gorgona drift from place 
and dam the flooding Arno at its mouth 
until it drowns the last of your foul race! 

For if to Ugolino falls the censure 85 

for having betrayed your castles, you for your part 
should not have put his sons to such a torture: 

Canto XXXIII 273 

you modern Thebes! those tender lives you spilt — 
Brigata, Uguccione, and the others 
I mentioned earlier — were too young for guilt! 90 

We passed on further, where the frozen mine 
entombs another crew in greater pain; 
these wraiths are not bent over, but lie supine. 

Their very weeping closes up their eyes; 

and the grief that finds no outlet for its tears 95 

turns inward to increase their agonies: 

for the first tears that they shed knot instantly 
in their eye-sockets, and as they freeze they form 
a crystal visor above the cavity. 

And despite the fact that standing in that place 100 

I had become as numb as any callus, 
and all sensation had faded from my face, 

somehow I felt a wind begin to blow, 

whereat I said: "Master, what stirs this wind? 

Is not all heat extinguished here below?" 105 

And the Master said to me: "Soon you will be 

where your own eyes will see the source and cause 
and give you their own answer to the mystery." 

And one of those locked in that icy mall 
cried out to us as we passed: "O souls so cruel 110 

that you are sent to the last post of all, 

relieve me for a little from the pain 

of this hard veil; let my heart weep a while 
before the weeping freeze my eyes again." 

And I to him: "If you would have my service, 115 

tell me your name; then if I do not help you 
may I descend to the last rim of the ice." 

274 The Inferno 

"I am Friar Alberigo," he answered therefore, 

"the same who called for the fruits from the bad garden. 
Here I am given dates for figs full store." 1 20 

"What! Are you dead already?" I said to him. 
And he then: "How my body stands in the world 
I do not know. So privileged is this rim 

of Ptolomea, that often souls fall to it 

before dark Atropos has cut their thread. 1 25 

And that you may more willingly free my spirit 

of this glaze of frozen tears that shrouds my face, 
I will tell you this: when a soul betrays as I did, 
it falls from flesh, and a demon takes its place, 

ruling the body till its time is spent. 130 

The ruined soul rains down into this cistern. 
So, I believe, there is still evident 

in the world above, all that is fair and mortal 
of this black shade who winters here behind me. 
If you have only recently crossed the portal 1 35 

from that sweet world, you surely must have known 
his body: Branca d'Oria is its name, 
and many years have passed since he rained down." 

"I think you are trying to take me in," I said, 

"Ser Branca d'Oria is a living man; 140 

he eats, he drinks, he fills his clothes and his bed." 

"Michel Zanche had not yet reached the ditch 
of the Black Talons," the frozen wraith replied, 
"there where the sinners thicken in hot pitch, 

when this one left his body to a devil, 145 

as did his nephew and second in treachery, 
and plumbed like lead through space to this dead level. 

Canto XXXIII 275 

But now reach out your hand, and let me cry." 
And I did not keep the promise I had made, 
for to be rude to him was courtesy. 1 50 

Ah, men of Genoa! souls of little worth, 
corrupted from all custom of righteousness, 
why have you not been driven from the earth? 

For there beside the blackest soul of all 

Romagna's evil plain, lies one of yours 155 

bathing his filthy soul in the eternal 

glacier of Cocytus for his foul crime, 
while he seems yet alive in world and time! 


1-90. Ugolino and Ruggieri (Oog-oh-LEE-noe; Roo-DJAIR- 
ee): Ugolino, Count of Donoratico and a member of the Guelph 
family della Gherardesca. He and his nephew, Nino de' Visconti, led 
the two Guelph factions of Pisa. In 1288 Ugolino intrigued with 
Archbishop Ruggieri degli Ubaldini, leader of the Ghibellines, to 
get rid of Visconti and to take over the command of all the Pisan 
Guelphs. The plan worked, but in the consequent weakening of the 
Guelphs, Ruggieri saw his chance and betrayed Ugolino, throwing 
him into prison with his sons and his grandsons. In the following 
year the prison was sealed up and they were left to starve to death. 
The law of retribution is clearly evident: in life Ruggieri sinned 
against Ugolino by denying him food; in Hell he himself becomes 
food for his victim. 

18. you will know already: News of Ugolino's imprisonment and 
death would certainly have reached Florence, what you cannot 
know: No living man could know what happened after Ugolino and 
his sons were sealed in the prison and abandoned. 

22. coop: Dante uses the word muda, in Italian signifying a stone 
tower in which falcons were kept in the dark to moult. From the time 
of Ugolino's death it became known as The Tower of Hunger. 

276 The Inferno 

25. several waning moons: Ugolino was jailed late in 1288. He 
was sealed in to starve early in 1289. 

28. This beast: Ruggieri. 

29-30. the mountain that hides Lucca from Pisa: These two cities 
would be in view of one another were it not for Monte San Giuliano. 

32. Gualandi and Sismondi and Lanfranchi (Gwah-LAHN- 
dee . . . Lahn-FRAHN-kee): Three Pisan nobles, Ghibellines and 
friends of the Archbishop. 

51-71. UGOLINO'S "SONS": Actually two of the boys were 
grandsons and all were considerably older than one would gather 
from Dante's account. Anselm, the younger grandson, was fifteen. 
The others were really young men and were certainly old enough for 
guilt despite Dante's charge in line 90. 

75. Then fasting overcame my grief and me: I.e., He died. Some 
interpret the line to mean that Ugolino's hunger drove him to canni- 
balism. Ugolino's present occupation in Hell would certainly sup- 
port that interpretation but the fact is that cannibalism is the one 
major sin Dante does not assign a place to in Hell. So monstrous 
would it have seemed to him that he must certainly have established 
a special punishment for it. Certainly he could hardly have relegated 
it to an ambiguity. Moreover, it would be a sin of bestiality rather 
than of fraud, and as such it would be punished in the Seventh 

79-80. the land where "si" sounds sweet and clear: Italy. 

82. Caprara and Gorgona: These two islands near the mouth of 
the Arno were Pisan possessions in 1300. 

86. betrayed your castles: In 1 284, Ugolino gave up certain cas- 
tles to Lucca and Florence. He was at war with Genoa at the time and 
it is quite likely that he ceded the castles to buy the neutrality of 
these two cities, for they were technically allied with Genoa. Dante, 
however, must certainly consider the action as treasonable, for oth- 
erwise Ugolino would be in Cai'na for his treachery to Visconti. 

88. you modern Thebes: Thebes, as a number of the foregoing 
notes will already have made clear, was the site of some of the most 
hideous crimes of antiquity. 

Canto XXXlll 277 

91. we passed on further: Marks the passage into Ptolomea. 

105. is not all heat extinguished: Dante believed (rather accu- 
rately, by chance) that all winds resulted from "exhalations of heat." 
Cocytus, however, is conceived as wholly devoid of heat, a meta- 
physical absolute zero. The source of the wind, as we discover in the 
next Canto, is Satan himself. 

117. may I descend to the last rim of the ice: Dante is not taking 
any chances; he has to go on to the last rim in any case. The sinner, 
however, believes him to be another damned soul and would inter- 
pret the oath quite otherwise than as Dante meant it. 

118. Friar Alberigo (Ahl-beh-REE-ghoe): Of the Manfredi of 
Faenza. He was another Jovial Friar. In 1 284 his brother Manfred 
struck him in the course of an argument. Alberigo pretended to let it 
pass, but in 1 285 he invited Manfred and his son to a banquet and 
had them murdered. The signal to the assassins was the words: 
"Bring in the fruit." "Friar Alberigo's bad fruit," became a prover- 
bial saying. 

125. Atropos: The Fate who cuts the thread of life. 

137. Branca d'Oria (DAW-ree-yah): A Genoese Ghibelline. His 
sin is identical in kind to that of Friar Alberigo. In 1 275 he invited 
his father-in-law, Michel Zanche (see Canto XXII), to a banquet and 
had him and his companions cut to pieces. He was assisted in the 
butchery by his nephew. 

Canto XXXIV 

ninth circle: cocytus Compound Fraud 

round four: judecca The Treacherous to 

Their Masters 
the center Satan 

"On march the banners of the King, " Virgil begins as the Po- 
ets face the last depth. He is quoting a medieval hymn, and to 
it he adds the distortion and perversion of all that lies about 
him. "On march the banners of the King — of Hell. " And 
there before them, in an infernal parody of Godhead, they see 
Satan in the distance, his great wings beating like a windmill. 
It is their beating that is the source of the icy wind of Cocytus, 
the exhalation of all evil. 

All about him in the ice are strewn the sinners of the last 
round, JUDECCA, named for Judas Iscariot. These are the 
sealed in the ice, twisted and distorted into every conceivable 
posture. It is impossible to speak to them, and the Poets move 
on to observe Satan. 

He is fixed into the ice at the center to which flow all the 
rivers of guilt, and as he beats his great wings as if to escape, 
their icy wind only freezes him more surely into the polluted 
ice. In a grotesque parody of the Trinity, he has three faces, 
each a different color, and in each mouth he clamps a sinner 
whom he rips eternally with his teeth. JUDAS ISCARIOT is 
in the central mouth, BRUTUS and CASSIUS in the mouths 
on either side. 

Having seen all, the Poets now climb through the center, 
grappling hand over hand down the hairy flank of Satan 
himself— a last supremely symbolic action — and at last, when 


Canto XXXIV 279 

they have passed the center of all gravity, they emerge from 
Hell. A long climb from the earth s center to the Mount of 
Purgatory awaits them, and they push on without rest, as- 
cending along the sides of the river Lethe, till they emerge 
once more to see the stars of Heaven, just before dawn on 
Easter Sunday. 

"On march the banners of the King of Hell," 

my Master said. "Toward us. Look straight ahead: 
can you make him out at the core of the frozen shell?" 

Like a whirling windmill seen afar at twilight, 

or when a mist has risen from the ground — 5 

just such an engine rose upon my sight 

stirring up such a wild and bitter wind 
I cowered for shelter at my Master's back, 
there being no other windbreak I could find. 

I stood now where the souls of the last class 10 

(with fear my verses tell it) were covered wholly; 
they shone below the ice like straws in glass. 

Some lie stretched out; others are fixed in place 
upright, some on their heads, some on their soles; 
another, like a bow, bends foot to face. 1 5 

When we had gone so far across the ice 

that it pleased my Guide to show me the foul creature 
which once had worn the grace of Paradise, 

he made me stop, and, stepping aside, he said: 

"Now see the face of Dis ! This is the place 20 

where you must arm your soul against all dread." 

Do not ask, Reader, how my blood ran cold 

and my voice choked up with fear. I cannot write it: 
this is a terror that cannot be told. 


280 The Inferno 

I did not die, and yet I lost life's breath: 25 

imagine for yourself what I became, 
deprived at once of both my life and death. 

The Emperor of the Universe of Pain 
jutted his upper chest above the ice; 
and I am closer in size to the great mountain 30 

the Titans make around the central pit, 

than they to his arms. Now, starting from this part, 
imagine the whole that corresponds to it! 

If he was once as beautiful as now 

he is hideous, and still turned on his Maker, 35 

well may he be the source of every woe! 

With what a sense of awe I saw his head 
towering above me! for it had three faces: 
one was in front, and it was fiery red; 

the other two, as weirdly wonderful, 40 

merged with it from the middle of each shoulder 
to the point where all converged at the top of the skull; 

the right was something between white and bile; 
the left was about the color that one finds 
on those who live along the banks of the Nile. 45 

Under each head two wings rose terribly, 
their span proportioned to so gross a bird: 
I never saw such sails upon the sea. 

They were not feathers — their texture and their form 

were like a bat's wings — and he beat them so 50 

that three winds blew from him in one great storm: 

it is these winds that freeze all Cocytus. 

He wept from his six eyes, and down three chins 
the tears ran mixed with bloody froth and pus. 

Canto XXXIV 281 

In every mouth he worked a broken sinner 55 

between his rake-like teeth. Thus he kept three 
in eternal pain at his eternal dinner. 

For the one in front the biting seemed to play 
no part at all compared to the ripping: at times 
the whole skin of his back was flayed away. 60 

"That soul that suffers most," explained my Guide, 
"is Judas Iscariot, he who kicks his legs 
on the fiery chin and has his head inside. 

Of the other two, who have their heads thrust forward, 
the one who dangles down from the black face 65 

is Brutus: note how he writhes without a word. 

And there, with the huge and sinewy arms, is the soul 
of Cassius. — But the night is coming on 
and we must go, for we have seen the whole." 

Then, as he bade, I clasped his neck, and he, 70 

watching for a moment when the wings 
were opened wide, reached over dexterously 

and seized the shaggy coat of the king demon; 
then grappling matted hair and frozen crusts 
from one tuft to another, clambered down. 75 

When we had reached the joint where the great thigh 
merges into the swelling of the haunch, 
my Guide and Master, straining terribly, 

turned his head to where his feet had been 

and began to grip the hair as if he were climbing; 80 

so that I thought we moved toward Hell again. 

"Hold fast!" my Guide said, and his breath came shrill 
with labor and exhaustion. "There is no way 
but by such stairs to rise above such evil." 

282 The Inferno 

At last he climbed out through an opening 85 

in the central rock, and he seated me on the rim; 
then joined me with a nimble backward spring. 

I looked up, thinking to see Lucifer 
as I had left him, and I saw instead 
his legs projecting high into the air. 90 

Now let all those whose dull minds are still vexed 
by failure to understand what point it was 
I had passed through, judge if I was perplexed. 

"Get up. Up on your feet," my Master said. 

"The sun already mounts to middle tierce, 95 

and a long road and hard climbing lie ahead." 

It was no hall of state we had found there, 
but a natural animal pit hollowed from rock 
with a broken floor and a close and sunless air. 

"Before I tear myself from the Abyss," 100 

I said when I had risen, "O my Master, 
explain to me my error in all this: 

where is the ice? and Lucifer — how has he 

been turned from top to bottom: and how can the sun 
have gone from night to day so suddenly?" 105 

And he to me: "You imagine you are still 

on the other side of the center where I grasped 
the shaggy flank of the Great Worm of Evil 

which bores through the world — you were while I climbed down, 
but when I turned myself about, you passed 110 

the point to which all gravities are drawn. 

You are under the other hemisphere where you stand; 
the sky above us is the half opposed 
to that which canopies the great dry land. 

Canto XXX IV 283 

Under the mid-point of that other sky 1 1 5 

the Man who was born sinless and who lived 
beyond all blemish, came to suffer and die. 

You have your feet upon a little sphere 
which forms the other face of the Judecca. 
There it is evening when it is morning here. 1 20 

And this gross Fiend and Image of all Evil 
who made a stairway for us with his hide 
is pinched and prisoned in the ice-pack still. 

On this side he plunged down from heaven's height, 

and the land that spread here once hid in the sea 1 25 

and fled North to our hemisphere for fright; 

and it may be that moved by that same fear, 
the one peak that still rises on this side 
fled upward leaving this great cavern here. 

Down there, beginning at the further bound 1 30 

of Beelzebub's dim tomb, there is a space 
not known by sight, but only by the sound 

of a little stream descending through the hollow 
it has eroded from the massive stone 
in its endlessly entwining lazy flow." 1 35 

My Guide and I crossed over and began 
to mount that little known and lightless road 
to ascend into the shining world again. 

He first, I second, without thought of rest 

we climbed the dark until we reached the point 140 

where a round opening brought in sight the blest 

and beauteous shining of the Heavenly cars. 
And we walked out once more beneath the Stars. 

284 The Inferno 


1. On march the banners of the King: The hymn (Vexilla regis 
prodeuni) was written in the sixth century by Venantius Fortunatus, 
Bishop of Poitiers. The original celebrates the Holy Cross, and is 
part of the service for Good Friday to be sung at the moment of un- 
covering the cross. 

17. the foul creature: Satan. 

38. three faces: Numerous interpretations of these three faces 
exist. What is essential to all explanation is that they be seen as per- 
versions of the qualities of the Trinity. 

54. bloody froth and pus: The gore of the sinners he chews which 
is mixed with his slaver. 

62. Judas: Note how closely his punishment is patterned on that 
of the Simoniacs (Canto XIX). 

67. huge and sinewy arms: The Cassius who betrayed Caesar was 
more generally described in terms of Shakespeare's "lean and hun- 
gry look." Another Cassius is described by Cicero {Catiline, III) as 
huge and sinewy. Dante probably confused the two. 

68. the night is coming on: It is now Saturday evening. 

82. his breath came shrill: Cf Canto XXIII, 85, where the fact that 
Dante breathes indicates to the Hypocrites that he is alive. Virgil's 
breathing is certainly a contradiction. 

95. middle tierce: In the canonical day tierce is the period from 
about six to nine a.m. Middle tierce, therefore, is seven-thirty. In go- 
ing through the center point, they have gone from night to day. They 
have moved ahead twelve hours. 

128. the one peak: The Mount of Purgatory. 

129. this great cavern: The natural animal pit of line 98. It is also 
"Beelzebub's dim tomb," line 131. 

133. a little stream: Lethe. In classical mythology, the river of 
forgetfulness, from which souls drank before being born. In Dante's 
symbolism it flows down from Purgatory, where it has washed away 

Canto XXXIV 285 

the memory of sin from the souls who are undergoing purification. 
That memory it delivers to Hell, which draws all sin to itself. 

143. Stars: As part of his total symbolism Dante ends each of the 
three divisions of the Commedia with this word. Every conclusion 
of the upward soul is toward the stars, God's shining symbols of 
hope and virtue. It is just before dawn of Easter Sunday that the Po- 
ets emerge — a further symbolism. 

John Ciardi 

John Ciardi was a tireless twentieth-century American man 
of letters throughout a long and varied career. As a poet, he regu- 
larly published in all the major journals and won the Hopwood 
Award at the University of Michigan, the Eunice Tietjens Memo- 
rial Prize at Poetry magazine, the Golden Rose Medal from the 
New England Poetry Society, and several other honors. In 1980, 
the International Platform Association named him People's Poet 
of the Year. Counting his posthumous collections, twenty-two 
volumes of his poetry were published in all, including the copi- 
ous Collected Poems of John Ciardi (1997), which puts many of 
Ciardi's best poems together in a single volume. There were also 
sixteen books of children's verse, which, among other honors, 
won the Junior Book Award from the Boys' Clubs of America in 
1962 and the Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children in 
1982 from the National Council of Teachers of English. He also 
edited an important 1950 anthology of the emerging poets of the 
1940s, Mid-Century American Poets, and followed that up in 
1959 with one of the freshest and most widely used poetry text- 
books of the past half century, How Does a Poem Mean? On the 
lighter side, he collaborated with Isaac Asimov in 1978 and 198 1 
on two very popular volumes of limericks. In addition to his own 
work as poet, poetry anthologizer, and poetry textbook writer, 
John Ciardi was also a national presence as a commentator on 
contemporary poetry through his work as poetry editor at Satur- 
day Review for about twenty years, his directorship of the Bread 
Loaf Writers' Conference in Vermont for seventeen years, and 
his work on the college lecture circuit for thirty-five years as the 
unofficial American Ambassador of Poetry. 

Ciardi also hosted a CBS network television magazine show 
in 1961, Accent, and had a regular weekly feature for nine years 
called "A Word in Your Ear" on National Public Radio's Morn- 
ing Edition. He opened up the arcane mysteries of etymology in 
his popular three- volume series of entertaining word histories, A 
Browsers Dictionary (I and II) and Good Words to You (III). For 
all these reasons, but perhaps first and foremost for his magnifi- 
cent translation of Dante's Divine Comedy, John Ciardi earned 
his place among the important literary figures of his generation. 

— Edward M.Cifelli 

Selected Works by John Ciardi 


Inferno. Mentor Books. NAL, 1954. Signet Classics edition, 

Purgatorio. Mentor Books. NAL, 1961. Signet Classics edi- 
tion, 2009. 

Paradiso. Mentor Books. NAL. 1970. Signet Classics edi- 
tion, 2009. 


Homeward to America. Henry Holt, 1940. 
As If. Rutgers University Press, 1955. 
I Marry You. Rutgers University Press, 1958. 
Person to Person. Rutgers University Press, 1964. 
Lives ofX. Rutgers University Press, 1971. 
The Birds of Pompeii. University of Arkansas Press, 1985. 
The Collected Poems of John Ciardi. University of Arkansas 
Press, 1997. 

Children's Verse 

The Reason for the Pelican. Lippincott, 1959. 

The Monster Den. Lippincott, 1966. Illustrated by Edward 

Doodle Soup. Houghton Mifflin, 1985. 

Blabberhead, Bobble-Bud, and Spade. Anthology. Middle- 
sex County, NJ, 1988. 

Word Histories 

A Browser's Dictionary. Harper, 1980. 

A Second Browser's Dictionary. Harper, 1983. 

Good Words to You. Harper, 1987. 


How Does a Poem Mean? Houghton Mifflin, 1959 and 1975. 


Mid-Century American Poets. Twayne, 1950. 

The Ciardi Translations: Inferno 
Ciardi and Dante 

1. The Violin Following the Piano 

It turned out to be a smart business decision back in 1954 
when New American Library, under the editorial leadership 
of mass-market pioneer Victor Weybright, published a fifty- 
cent paperback edition of John Ciardi's new rendering of 
Dante's Inferno. Not so much a translation, Ciardi insisted in 
his "Translator's Note," but something he called a "transpo- 

NAL was only six years old at the time, but it was already 
publishing a highly profitable fiction line under its Signet im- 
print, plus a successful list of serious nonfiction and classics, 
designed primarily for classroom use, under its Mentor im- 
print. Signet began in 1948 by publishing twenty-five-cent 
paperbacks that it sold in some eighty thousand drugstores 
and newsstands around the country — books by writers like 
Richard Wright, William Faulkner, James Joyce, Truman 
Capote, and Gore Vidal, with many other important writers of 
midcentury soon to follow: Norman Mailer, John Steinbeck, 
J. D. Salinger, James Jones, and Erskine Caldwell, to name 
but a handful. But Weybright was just as intent on developing 
the Mentor line, which he saw as the key component for the es- 
tablishment of the company's serious intellectual and educa- 
tional image. He started Mentor off with books like W. H. D. 
Rouse's translation The Great Dialogues of Plato, Edith Hamil- 
ton's Mythology, and Margaret Mead's volumes about the 


The Ciardi Translations: Inferno 289 

South Seas, all books by older, established professors and au- 
thors, and all books that sold well. 1 

Weybright understood, however, that it was important for 
his company's long-term success to find younger scholars 
and translators as well, people who would add luster to his 
Mentor list and catapult it into the second half of the twenti- 
eth century. He saw at once that John Ciardi and his proposal 
for a new translation of the Inferno were a perfect fit for the 
Mentor line, both artistically and commercially. The proposal 
probably came to Weybright's attention in October 1953, when 
Ciardi's query letter first arrived at NAL. The timing was un- 
fortunate, however, because the fledgling company was just 
then undergoing a minor adjustment in its growth pattern, 
owing to the number of mass-market books that were glut- 
ting the market that fall, a blip on the profit graph that was 
soon corrected. But it seems to have been serious enough to 
prompt Weybright to hold off for five months before finally 
committing to the book in March 1954. Like all business de- 
cisions in publishing, this one had some risk attached to it, 
but Weybright had an excellent feel for the upside of books 
he bought for NAL, and he had faith in this little-known but 
clearly talented poet-translator whose Inferno had wound up 
on his desk. This was just the sort of book Victor Weybright 
was willing, even eager, to bet on. 

Weybright's vision notwithstanding, the question had two 
sides to it. Today, of course, translations of the entire Divine 
Comedy as well as separately published individual volumes 
(Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso) are so numerous, and 
come in so many different hardcover and paperback editions 
(with and without the original Italian), that it is hard to keep 
track of them all. Each one has its champions, who prefer the 
way this or that translator manages this or that aspect of 
Dante's long and complex three-part poem. Each one tries to 
bring something new to the marketplace, some new artistic 
or technical consideration that its supporters hope will sepa- 

1 . For the complete story of NAL's early days, see Victor Weybright, 
The Making of a Publisher: A Life in the 20th Century Book Revolution 
(New York: Reynal & Co., 1967; reprinted in London: Weidenfeld and 
Nicolson, 1968). See especially Chapter VIII. 

290 The Ciardi Translations: Inferno 

rate it from the pack. The Dante industry thrives. But back in 
the early 1950s, there was considerable doubt if yet another 
translation of the Inferno, in any format, could be justified. 
Ciardi had learned this the hard way when his efforts to have 
his translation come out in hardcover, before NAL's paper- 
back edition, ran into difficulties. Atlantic Monthly-Little, 
Brown, Houghton Mifflin, and Indiana University Press all 
turned him down, although Indiana University Press reported 
back that "the decision was a close one." In the end, however, 
they thought bringing out a new Inferno was "too risky." 2 
Ciardi finally reached agreement with Rutgers University 
Press to bring the translation out in June 1954, just two months 
before NAL's version came out using the same plates. So 
Ciardi did find his hard- and softcover publishers in 1954, but 
it wasn't easy, considering how many editions of the Inferno, 
in expensive and inexpensive formats, were already compet- 
ing with one another. 

Among them was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's verse 
translation from a hundred years earlier, a workmanlike job 
that is still popular in some circles. Even more popular was 
the inexpensive turn-of-the-century Temple Classics prose 
version, which included the original Italian to help readers 
match the translation with what Dante actually wrote. A 
newer, hardcover terza rima version (referring to Dante's in- 
terlocking three-line rhymed stanzas) by the English poet 
and art historian Laurence Binyon had come out in 1933 and 
been widely praised. And in 1949, Dorothy Sayers, the En- 
glish mystery writer, published her terza rima translation in 
a mass-market paperback format. There were others too, so 
executives at NAL must have wondered just how wide the 
market for Dante was in the United States — and whether 
there was room for still another translation in the same mass- 
market paperback format as Sayers'. In the end, of course, 
Weybright's vision and good judgment prevailed and he took 
a chance on Ciardi and his Inferno. 

It didn't take long for the gamble to pay off: Sixty thou- 
sand copies of the Inferno were sold in the first six months, a 

2. Edward M. Cifelli, John Ciardi: A Biography (Fayetteville, AR: 
The University of Arkansas Press, 1997), p. 190. 

The Ciardi Translations: Inferno 291 

million by 1965, and by 1977, according to one of Ciardi's 
letters to Eric Swenson at W. W. Norton, it was selling two 
hundred thousand copies a year, some two million since its 
modest first appearance in 1954. 3 Sales figures from 1977 to 
2000, the period when the Ciardi translation enjoyed its great- 
est predominance (whether in college bookstores, neighbor- 
hood drugstores, or international airports), are not available 
among the Ciardi Papers at the Library of Congress, but they 
were even better than the excellent numbers the book posted 
from 1954 to 1977. Since the Mentor-Signet merger in 2002, 
the Inferno alone has sold half a million more copies through 
eighteen printings. After factoring in the many hardcover 
editions of the Ciardi translation, the paperback and hard- 
cover editions of Ciardi's version of the entire Divine Com- 
edy, the Inferno's inclusion in college World Lit textbooks, 
and the used-book market (not to mention library copies and 
Internet excerpts), it is literally impossible to say exactly how 
many millions of Americans over parts of four generations 
have come to know Dante through Ciardi's eyes and voice — 
which is to say, through Ciardi's poetry as well as Dante's. It 
is the violin following the piano, as Ciardi famously put it at 
the opening of his "Translator's Note" in the Inferno. 

It is tempting to think the Ciardi Inferno was destined 
for artistic and commercial success, but it hardly seemed so 
to Ciardi himself, who realized from the outset just how 
much of a gamble he was taking when he began translating 
Dante in the late 1940s. He had not before then shown any in- 
terest at all in translation, either professionally or personally, 
nor had he built a career in either Dante Studies or Italian- 
language studies. Even his Italian was suspect, a home-learned 
variety that Ciardi had had to learn how to read on his own. 
By education, he was, in fact, an English major by way of 
Tufts University (BA) and the University of Michigan (MA), 
where he had won the Hopwood Award in poetry in 1939. 
After the war, Ciardi began teaching at Harvard, which is 
where his interest in Dante caught fire. It began as nothing 

3. Cifelli, John Ciardi, p. 192. See also Edward Krickel, John Ciardi 
(Boston, MA: G. K. Hall, 1980), p. 153. 

292 The Ciardi Translations: Inferno 

more than an assignment in 1947 for his students to read a 
verse translation of selected passages from the Inferno. The 
only American version in verse, however, was Longfellow's, 
which Ciardi saw as too genteel to do Dante justice, and so 
he began translating a passage here and a passage there for 
classroom use. Very soon afterward, however, the work be- 
gan to grip him, and Ciardi found himself occupied more and 
more and at greater and greater depth with Dante's world 
and words. 

One of the passages Ciardi had translated for his students 
was the story of Filippo Argenti from Canto Eight of the In- 
ferno, which in 1949 he polished up for inclusion, alongside 
a poem of his own titled "Letter to Dante," in his third book 
of poems, Live Another Day. By the summer of that year, 
Ciardi had become so fully engrossed in the translation that 
he could write to an old friend, Clarence Decker, president of 
the University of Kansas City, that he was heading out to 
Missouri, where his in-laws lived, in order "to hole up there 
for a while to work at a long project that has begun to absorb 
me: I'm translating the Inferno."* Two years later Ciardi 
wrote "Another Comedy," a seventy-line poem written in 
Dante's terza rima and originally intended to be a twelve- 
canto epic that was to explore Ciardi's fatherless childhood. 
The epic was never completed, but it is clear that, by measur- 
able increments, Dante was occupying a larger and larger 
portion of John Ciardi's intellectual and creative life. 

And yet translating Dante still seemed a long shot, for 
even though it fell comfortably under the umbrella of Ciar- 
di's intellectual interests, it was unlike anything he had ever 
done before — and he felt the discomfort of sensing that he 
was trespassing on sacred ground protected by Dante profes- 
sionals who were suspicious of outsiders. And Ciardi the 
poet was definitely an outsider. The only thing he could do 
was push ahead and hope the quality of his work might earn 
him respect in the competitive world of Dante studies — 
but the degree of respect he actually achieved over time had 
to be both surprising and heartwarming to him. Archibald 

4. The Selected Letters of John Ciardi, ed. Edward M. Cifelli (Fa- 
yetteville, AR: The University of Arkansas Press, 1991), p. 53. 

The Ciardi Translations: Inferno 293 

MacAllister, the Dante specialist at Princeton University, for 
example, who had been the NAL reader recommending the 
original 1954 publication of the Inferno and who wrote his- 
torical introductions to both the Inferno and the Purgatorio, 
wrote in the Yale Review about how he had at first been put 
off by Ciardi's use of both full and half rhymes, but, he went 
on, "I realized that these tercets, with the first and third lines 
rhyming, often imperfectly, were carrying the narrative along 
in much the same manner of terza rima and with the same 
relative unobtrusiveness of rhyme as in the Italian." He also 
admired Ciardi's style, "plain as much of the Inferno is 
plain, dramatic where Dante is dramatic, with touches of vul- 
garity and grim humor to match those of the original which 
are normally glossed over or unrecognized." Furthermore, 
MacAllister said that despite Ciardi's protestations to the 
contrary, he was indeed a Dante scholar who demonstrated 
at every level a "profound understanding of the poem." 5 
There was room for disagreement, of course, and Ciardi heard 
from that segment of the Dante community too, but it was 
clear he had struck a note (and perhaps a balance) in his trans- 
lation that pleased both general readers and professional 

2. Theory and Practice 

When the first NAL edition of the Inferno was published in 
1954, Ciardi had not yet written very much on the art of 
translation, which makes his short "Translator's Note" an im- 
portant statement. He did not address there his displeasure 
with available translations, but we know from other sources 
that he felt Longfellow's did not capture either contemporary 
American verse or a useful sense of Dante's universe. At 
some point after he had begun his work and before it was 
completed, he also read the Sayers' translation, which was 
published in 1949, and which, like Binyon's, was in British 
English and in terza rima, a decision Ciardi believed led 
them both to mismanage the text in order to make the rhymes 

5. September 1954, pp. 158-59. Quoted in Cifelli, John Ciardi, 
p. 174. 

294 The Ciardi Translations: Inferno 

work. This was not the Dante Ciardi loved, and so he slowly 
began to formulate a few ideas that gradually became the 
principles he worked by and later stated briefly in the "Trans- 
lator's Note." 

First, he made the point that "word-for-word equivalents" 
were "false to the nature of poetry" and that "transposition" 
was more like what is possible than "translation." To clarify, 
he struck on the musical metaphor that has seemed so apt for 
so many years: "When the violin repeats what the piano has 
just played, it cannot make the same sounds and it can only 
approximate the same chords." That is the same relationship 
between a translation and its original, Ciardi maintained, and 
to "preserve" as much of Dante as he could, he looked "for a 
language as close as possible to Dante's, which is in essence a 
sparse, direct, and idiomatic language." Guiding him in that 
search was Ciardi's sense of Dante's "revolt from the Sicilian 
School of Elegance" — that is, Dante's determination "to avoid 
elegance simply for the sake of elegance." 

Dante's is a "spoken tongue," Ciardi wrote, which led him 
to abandon Dante's interlocking terza rima because in En- 
glish the result is a language "inverted, distorted, padded, and 
made unspeakable." But any true English sense of Dante's 
verse must retain the three-line tercets and some sort of 
rhyme, in Ciardi's view, which turned out to be, in Ciardi's 
hands, stanzas that rhymed the first and third lines only, and 
which therefore abandoned the interlocking quality so nat- 
ural in Italian but so disastrous, he thought, in English. Ciardi 
would amplify his comments on all these decisions in time 
for his 1961 translation of the Purgatorio (available in a new 
2009 edition from Signet Classics), but that is all he said 
about his principles of translation in 1954, when the Inferno 
was first published — except for information, clarifications, 
and interpretations provided in the notes and canto openings, 
which, with the charts, diagrams, and pronunciation guides, 
all add up to a translation that is not merely excellent in its 
own right but a work so comprehensive and accessible that it 
brings Dante within reach of every reader. 

What we can say about Ciardi's principles of translation, 
as well as the translations themselves that followed from 

The Ciardi Translations: Inferno 295 

ihcm, is that even from the outset, John Ciardi was willing 
to gamble on his instincts and judgments. He believed, for 
example, that he could preserve more of Dante by translat- 
ing freely both the sound and the sense of the original — that 
is, that he believed he could and should freewheel some of 
Dante's lines and "word-complexes" in order to achieve greater 
fidelity to Dante's meanings and music. In essence, then, Cia- 
rdi believed he could capture Dante's original words and lines 
and sense better by occasionally straying from them. These 
liberties are a cause of concern to some in the Dante commu- 
nity, but Ciardi's reader-friendly verse translation of the In- 
ferno has won over enormous numbers of readers, including 
a great many Dante specialists. 

Archibald MacAllister, as we have seen, liked the fact that 
Ciardi's full- and half-rhyme English version of terza rima, 
without the interlocking quality of the original, managed to 
carry the story along in much the same unobtrusive way as 
Dante's Italian had done. He also liked Ciardi's combination 
of high and low styles, again in the manner of Dante. More- 
over, the Ciardi translation of the Inferno, which carried on 
its original title page the words, "a verse rendering for the 
modern reader," had earned high praise from a great many 
experts and reviewers. Translator Dudley Fitts, for example, 
wrote in a July Fourth review in The New York Times Book 
Review, "here is our Dante, Dante for the first time translated 
into virile, tense American verse; a work of enormous erudi- 
tion which (like its original) never forgets to be poetry; a 
shining event in a bad age." Translator Richmond Lattimore 
wrote in the Nation on August 28 that he liked the "plain, 
simple English," the "unobtrusive" rhymes, and the rhythm 
that "swings along at a good pace." Poet-critic Randall Jarrell 
wrote in the Yale Review that Ciardi's Inferno had "more nar- 
rative power [and] strength of action, than any other I know." 
And poet John Crowe Ransom called the diction "fresh and 
sharp" and wrote: "I think this version of Dante will be in 
many respects the best we have seen." 6 John Freccero, per- 

6. Cifelli, John Ciardi, pp. 190-91 . 

294 The Ciardi Translations: Inferno 

work. This was not the Dante Ciardi loved, and so he slowly 
began to formulate a few ideas that gradually became the 
principles he worked by and later stated briefly in the "Trans- 
lator's Note." 

First, he made the point that "word-for-word equivalents" 
were "false to the nature of poetry" and that "transposition" 
was more like what is possible than "translation." To clarify, 
he struck on the musical metaphor that has seemed so apt for 
so many years: "When the violin repeats what the piano has 
just played, it cannot make the same sounds and it can only 
approximate the same chords." That is the same relationship 
between a translation and its original, Ciardi maintained, and 
to "preserve" as much of Dante as he could, he looked "for a 
language as close as possible to Dante's, which is in essence a 
sparse, direct, and idiomatic language." Guiding him in that 
search was Ciardi's sense of Dante's "revolt from the Sicilian 
School of Elegance" — that is, Dante's determination "to avoid 
elegance simply for the sake of elegance." 

Dante's is a "spoken tongue," Ciardi wrote, which led him 
to abandon Dante's interlocking terza rima because in En- 
glish the result is a language "inverted, distorted, padded, and 
made unspeakable." But any true English sense of Dante's 
verse must retain the three-line tercets and some sort of 
rhyme, in Ciardi's view, which turned out to be, in Ciardi's 
hands, stanzas that rhymed the first and third lines only, and 
which therefore abandoned the interlocking quality so nat- 
ural in Italian but so disastrous, he thought, in English. Ciardi 
would amplify his comments on all these decisions in time 
for his 1961 translation of the Purgatorio (available in a new 
2009 edition from Signet Classics), but that is all he said 
about his principles of translation in 1954, when the Inferno 
was first published — except for information, clarifications, 
and interpretations provided in the notes and canto openings, 
which, with the charts, diagrams, and pronunciation guides, 
all add up to a translation that is not merely excellent in its 
own right but a work so comprehensive and accessible that it 
brings Dante within reach of every reader. 

What we can say about Ciardi's principles of translation, 
as well as the translations themselves that followed from 

The Ciardi Translations: Inferno 295 

them, is that even from the outset, John Ciardi was willing 
to gamble on his instincts and judgments. He believed, for 
example, that he could preserve more of Dante by translat- 
ing freely both the sound and the sense of the original — that 
is, that he believed he could and should freewheel some of 
Dante's lines and "word-complexes" in order to achieve greater 
fidelity to Dante's meanings and music. In essence, then, Cia- 
rdi believed he could capture Dante's original words and lines 
and sense better by occasionally straying from them. These 
liberties are a cause of concern to some in the Dante commu- 
nity, but Ciardi's reader-friendly verse translation of the In- 
ferno has won over enormous numbers of readers, including 
a great many Dante specialists. 

Archibald MacAllister, as we have seen, liked the fact that 
Ciardi's full- and half-rhyme English version of terza rima, 
without the interlocking quality of the original, managed to 
carry the story along in much the same unobtrusive way as 
Dante's Italian had done. He also liked Ciardi's combination 
of high and low styles, again in the manner of Dante. More- 
over, the Ciardi translation of the Inferno, which carried on 
its original title page the words, "a verse rendering for the 
modern reader," had earned high praise from a great many 
experts and reviewers. Translator Dudley Fitts, for example, 
wrote in a July Fourth review in The New York Times Book 
Review, "here is our Dante, Dante for the first time translated 
into virile, tense American verse; a work of enormous erudi- 
tion which (like its original) never forgets to be poetry; a 
shining event in a bad age." Translator Richmond Lattimore 
wrote in the Nation on August 28 that he liked the "plain, 
simple English," the "unobtrusive" rhymes, and the rhythm 
that "swings along at a good pace." Poet-critic Randall Jarrell 
wrote in the Yale Review that Ciardi's Inferno had "more nar- 
rative power [and] strength of action, than any other I know." 
And poet John Crowe Ransom called the diction "fresh and 
sharp" and wrote: "I think this version of Dante will be in 
many respects the best we have seen." 6 John Freccero, per- 

6. Cifelli, John Ciardi, pp. 190-91 . 

296 The Ciardi Translations: Inferno 

haps the preeminent Dante scholar in America today, has 
called Ciardi's 1970 Paradiso, written with the same princi- 
ples as the Inferno, of course, "a superb translation." It is hard 
to imagine higher praise than that. 

When Archibald MacLeish wrote to Ciardi in 1977 to say 
that he was reading his version of the Divine Comedy slowly 
every night, he said he could hear "the two rhythms — yours 
and his — the two tongues speaking — the deep space of time 
between them — not voice and echo but voice and voice." 7 
This was a comforting sentiment. Ciardi knew that transla- 
tion was, by necessity, what he called "the art of failure" (see 
Ciardi's 'Translator's Note" to the Purgatorio), but MacLeish 
had given him confidence that his was the sort of failure that 
came closest to re-creating the sound and sense — even some 
of the poetic magic of the Inferno. 

At Ciardi's death in 1986, poet Richard Wilbur wrote in 
the Proceedings of the American Academy and Institute of 
Arts and Letters, "It is the glory of his version that it matches 
Dante's whole range of voices, being beautifully harsh where 
Dante is harsh and, what is most difficult of all, simple where 
Dante is simple. I think there is no doubt that John Ciardi 
gave the English language its best Commedia" 

—Edward M. Cifelli 

7.Cifem,JohnCiardhp. 192. 

ISBN: 978-0-451-53139-1 


o lll 71149 ll 00595 11 9 

Signet Classics 



Belonging in the immortal company of the works of Homer, Virgil. 
Milton, and Shakespeare, Dante Alighieri's poetic masterpiece is a 
moving human drama, an unforgettable visionary journey through 
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Ages, a glorification of the ways of God, and a magnificent protest 
against the ways in which men have thwarted the divine plan. One 
pf the few literary works that has enjoyed a fame both immediate 
(and enduring, The Inferno remains powerful after seven centuries, 
,'It confronts the most universal issues— good and evil, free will and 
( predestination— while regaining intensely personal and fero- 
; ciously political, for it wa$ born out of the anguish of a man who 
saw human life blighted by the injustice and corruption of his times. 

"It is not possible to say how much we owe to him, because his spL 
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"A poem of wild and interesting images. ..a good instance... of -tha 
ioul of universal significance in a true poet's compositions in addi 
t^e specific meaning."— Samuel Taylor Coleridge 

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